No, this is not a lurid tale of a weekend liaison in Barcelona…….but my experience of jumping head first into the world of cooking and tasting one of the stranger pieces of offal…..so why not just head straight for the bollocks?
Offal is not a huge part of the British diet these days, we prefer to eat only the ‘elite’ cuts of meat and rarely touch the innards as we would’ve done in the past. I remember as a child regularly seeing, and turning my nose up, at the tripe stalls in the markets and butcher’s stalls around West Yorkshire, something I’m sure you see much less of today. With the exception of liver and kidney, offal is very difficult to find in UK supermarkets and a high street butcher is becoming a rarer and rarer thing.
The Catalans and Spanish, however, are much more accustomed to eating the organ meats and making products from the blood of animals. Every market has at least one stall selling kidneys, livers, brains and hearts of a variety of different animals as well as pig’s feet and sheep’s heads amongst other things. This is not only restricted to the markets and even the supermarkets here stock the more commonly eaten offal. Therefore, I felt it was time to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of having easy access to these items rather than having to hunt them down to sample them as I would in England.
Although my childhood loathing of tripe remains, I just cannot get to like the texture and taste or be converted even when cooked in the Catalan way in a sauce made with tomatoes, onions, almonds and pine nuts or chickpeas, which is much more preferable to the Yorkshire variety which consists of tripe and malt vinegar, I am very fond of morcilla here. This is a variety of blood sausage made with pig’s blood and frequently with onions but there are other additions and I hugely enjoyed a dish of tender ox heart with pickled walnut and watercress at London’s St John Bread and Wine. So it was with excitement yet slight trepidation that I approached buying and cooking a bull’s testicle from the local market.
Now these guys have got big cojones and I must admit that I did have to have a word with myself once or twice about whether I should really be considering eating this bulbous, veiny, sperm producing organ as it sat in my hand and then on the chopping board.
But, you can’t have principals about eating all the animal if you aren’t going to put them into practice. So, with the aid of Colman Andrew’s recipe in ‘Catalan Cooking’ I prepared the testicle by first removing the membrane skin (which if difficult can be made easier by popping it in the freezer for half an hour before trying to remove) and slicing it. Despite removing what appeared to be the whole membrane it still had the veiny appearance, hence I’m not sure if I did this correctly and that I may have benefitted from the ‘half an hour in the freezer’ trick.
I was surprised by the creamy looking flesh inside, I had been expecting something much bloodier given it’s outside appearance.
So, to the cooking and tasting. The recipe is simple: slightly salt the slices of testicle and then dip them in a flour which contains finely chopped garlic and parsley and then sauté them in olive oil.
The end result looked much more appetising than the original product, although the way the slices took on a ‘rubber ring’ appearance suggested than I was right about not having fully removed the membrane so I made sure I didn’t eat this when tasting. I also couldn’t quite shake off the thought of what I was eating….why are heart and blood not a problem for me but bull’s balls are? So, did I enjoy them? Honestly, not really, the texture was squidgy, no substance as with other meats or the heart I tasted, and also no stand out flavour, the parsley and the garlic were the dominant feature. Did I hate them? No, not at all, in fact if anything they were inoffensive, it was solely the texture which was off-putting.
After some overnight consideration I felt that I maybe shouldn’t write them off at my first attempt. The remaining membrane and the thickness of the slices weren’t right so I decide to use what was left in the fridge and have a second bash.
However, I wouldn’t let this stop me eating them again. In fact, on a decent looking menu I wouldn’t hesitate to order them, especially as having never cooked or tried them before I have nothing to compare my attempt with, so am prepared to be proved wrong by someone more competent and knowledgeable.