Lamb testicles are fairly unusual in this country today, but if you visit butcher’s shops and markets in other parts of the world, you’ll find that they are still a common sight. Above is a picture of heads, testicle and brains in the Boqueria, Barcelona. You may recall a post I wrote a few years ago, on Prairie Oysters and seeing the ovine equivalent, reminded me that I wanted to do a taste comparison.
Testicles, as I assume most people know, are part of the male reproductive system. Their main function is to produce sperm and testosterone – for this reason, it is said that testicles are an aphrodisiac. Most domesticated male animals are castrated, because otherwise testosterone naturally makes them somewhat frisky and aggressive. Intact prize winning bulls, rams and boars are often kept in isolation, but are frequently called upon to provide a service for females of their species.
The name testicle is derived from the Latin, testis, which also means witness and is relative to the word testimony. This seems to be an odd double meaning, but according to classicist Joshua Katz, “the original Indo-European form of testis was trito-sth2-i meaning “a third person standing,” i.e. a third person standing by in order to witness some event (sth2, the second part of the IE form, is related to the Latin word sto, stare to stand).” This in turn relates to Near Eastern men holding the genitals of another, in order to swear an oath (as mentioned in the Bible, Jacob’s instruction to Joseph, his son, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh, and promise to deal loyally and truly with me.” Genesis 47.29). Katz suggests that early Romans may have done the same.
Katz goes on to relate holding an urfeta (a disk or ball) during Umbrian bull sacrifice (to Jupiter), was an example of swearing a solemn oath, while holding the animal’s testicles. I’m reminded of a documentary I saw, some time ago, which stated that Mussolini used to touch his testicles to ward off evil spirits. This is still practiced by superstitious men in Italy today, so connected or not to the Bible and Rome, it makes the idea of swearing an oath while touching one’s genitals somewhat easier to believe.
Lamb Fries recipe (serves 2):
6 lamb testicles
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plain flour
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Extra virgin olive for frying
Back to cooking. Rinse your testicles in cold water for half an hour, or soak them in salty water for an hour (like I did).
Rinse and dry the washed lamb fries and then using a very sharp knife (I recommend a scalpel), slice off the bulbous end and cut along the seam. Pry the skin back, like removing the tissue from a raw chicken. It’s more difficult skinning a testicle, but after the first one, it gets easier. Once the skin is cut open, push your fingers in between it and the flesh, then drag forwards using a regular knife to scrape the solid meat away in one piece.
Cut the testicle meat into slices of about 1/4 inch (1cm) thick. Dredge the lamb fries in seasoned flour, dip them in beaten seasoned egg and coat them in a mixture of the cornmeal and breadcrumbs. I mixed breadcrumbs with cornmeal for added crunch, but breadcrumbs alone, would be very good.
I made the breadcrumbs from stale brown sourdough bread. Cut the bread up into cubes and put it into an oven dish. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on mixed herbs and chopped garlic. My herbs were dried rosemary, sage and thyme, ground in mortar and pestle with a pinch of coarse seas salt and black peppercorns. The bread was toasted in the oven at 140º C for about 40 minutes. The resulting croutons were ground – again using a mortar and pestle. Any leftover croutons or unused breadcrumbs will keep for a week or two in the fridge or indefinitely in the freezer. I do this on a regular basis and eat the croutons as a savoury snack.
Heat some olive oil until on the verge of smoking and fry the coated testicle slices in batches.
‘Nduja Ragu recipe:
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
6 medium tomatoes (grated)
1/4 inch slice of ’nduja (broken up into the sauce)
a heaped dessertspoon tomato purée
a squirt anchovy paste
a pinch crushed chilli
8 Kalamata olives (sliced)
8 basil leaves (torn)
cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
The Lamb Fries were fantastic – they have a lovely soft fluffy texture, somewhat like calf’s brains, with a hint of lamb – that combined with a crunchy outer layer makes them very moreish, especially when served with the above ragú and a variety of hot sauces for comparison. The crunchy balls go particularly well with the Cholula Chipotle (above) and Sriracha, but even just a squirt of lemon was pretty good. In my humble opinion, lamb fries are far superior to prairie oysters.
For further reading, there is a cook book dedicated to cooking with balls, The Testicle Cookbook, by Ljubomir Erovic.