Balls Out in Virginia City!
It's 10:35 a.m. on March 15 and I have never eaten sheep testicles, steer testicles, nor any testicles for that matter. What's more, I have never had the slightest inkling of a desire to do so. And for what is likely the only time in my life, this particular gastric preference makes me the odd man out.
At Virginia City's annual Mountain Oyster Fry, locals and visitors go nuts for—well—nuts. Nearly a dozen vendors pit their recipes against one another to see whose balls are the best. Most cooks stick to the festival's namesake and the most common preparation: frying the dangly delicacies. One booth, manned by the Virginia City high school baseball team, used a tempura-style batter while another flattened them (presumably to make them look more like oysters) and used a traditional oyster breading. Others ground them up and made chili, one group fried meatballs made with ground testicles, breadcrumbs, corn, and peppers, and another made a cajones curry. One group took a gourmet approach to gonad preparation and sautéed them in a French pinot grigio sauce. My favorite, the group from Virginia City's own Bucket of Blood Saloon, wrapped theirs in bacon before deep frying them, giving credence to the long known fact that just about anything tastes great when it's wrapped in bacon and/or deep fried.
The stands opened for sales at noon and at $1 apiece, nearly every vendor was sold out in slightly more than an hour. The about 200 people on hand for the event tore into the testicles without hesitation, and I have to admit, I too found myself enjoying the fare and nearly forgetting what I was eating.
Before you cringe, judge, or reach for your wastebasket, hear me out. Firstly, mountain oysters are not the least appetizing food I've tried. That title goes to a skewer of fried tree grubs (picture maggots about the size of your thumb) while on an excursion down the Amazon. Secondly, I remind you most of the testicles were fried, and fried anything tastes basically the same as fried anything else. And thirdly, think about the foods that we all eat day in and day out. An egg is an unborn chicken; oyster appetizers are entire animals—organs, brains, stomach content, and all; and I'm not even going to get started on hotdogs!
Mountain oysters aren't all that bad, and if you've ever had clams, mussels, or oysters, you wouldn't have any trouble with the chewy texture. The taste is probably more palatable than many people find the preceding list of seafood: not entirely dissimilar to organ meats, but surprisingly muted. In all honesty, the testicles are marinated so long or are paired with such strong spices, that little of the meat's actual flavor ever gets through to any but the most discerning of palates.
It was definitely worth the short drive south of Reno to take part in this quirky festival, and the warm, inviting demeanor of the cooks and patrons that exemplifies Virginia City quickly dispelled my fears.
Still on the fence about trying the ranch delicacy for yourself? That's OK. I wouldn't have taken anyone's word for it either. Just remember, at some point, likely hundreds of thousands of years ago, one of your ancestors saw a hard white thing fall out of a chicken's back side, and decided to eat it.