I’ve had some really terrible Rocky Mountain oysters.
Calf testicles, for the uninitiated, can be a delicacy when prepared correctly, but they are nearly unpalatable if you forget to remove the membrane or soak them too long in something meant to cover up the flavor, like lemon juice.
But Austin musician Doug Moreland knows that there is a finer side to eating balls, which is why he started the Cattlelacs Calfry more than a decade ago.
The event has evolved into a two-day music festival and cooking contest that takes place at his chainsaw art shop (yes, he’s also a chainsaw artist) in the small town of Manchaca just south of Austin.
I ran into Moreland at the free Sun Radio show at Guero’s last week and heard him talking about the upcoming Calfry. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this contest (I feel like I’ve judged every contest in Austin at this point in my food writing career), and having grown up in a part of the country where testicle eating is, contrary to rumors, more common than eating possum or squirrel, I felt like I really needed to be part of this year’s event.
I introduced myself and asked if I might join them at the judging table. He happily obliged, but by the time the contest was over on Saturday night, I was especially happy I’d asked because two of the contestants prepared some of the best Rocky Mountain oysters I’ve ever had.
The competition has drawn as many as 10 or 12 teams in the past, but this year, only four brave cooks took Moreland’s challenge to make the best balls in “South South Austin.” (They also prepared wild game and salsa, which were far less interesting than the main game.)
The teams had plenty of fun with innuendo (“Have a ball!” is the tagline for the event), but the truth is, if we’re going to seriously advocate nose-to-tail eating, including sweetbreads, livers and trotters, it doesn’t make sense to skip the part of the calf that separates the steers from the bulls.
Two of the entries tasted a lot like the Rocky Mountain oysters I’ve had before. One was cut into strips, breaded and fried and tasted like frozen steak fingers. The other was also breaded and fried, but they were cut into round discs and had exactly the texture you’d expect from sliced testicles.
The top two entries, however, held their crunch all the way up until judging time, and the cooks had done whatever it is that prize-winning calfry cooks do to flavor and tenderize the meat in a way that really does make them taste like freshly fried oysters, but without the brine.
The winning entry, from team Hay Chihuahua Que Cojones, wasn’t just perfectly fried, it was crusted in what tasted like cornflakes and seasoned so perfectly that they could have put half a dozen on a plate and sold them for $12 from a food truck in East Austin.
According to my fellow judge Beau Smith, team Hay Chihuahua Que Cojones has won before, and I plan on asking them ahead of next year’s event if they have any secrets they’d be willing to share. Not that a lot of you are frying calf testicles these days, but in the name of preserving tradition, I feel like I need to know.
Another note about the judges table: Also joining us was David Arnsberger, the longtime local radio DJ who hosts those free Wednesday night shows at Guero’s. For nearly 30 years, he hosted and organized Spamarama, which apparently featured far worse dishes than the ones we tried over the weekend.