BILL HARBY / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Deston Nokes, a judge in the Kohala Mountain Oyster Cookoff, above, prepared to take a taste of bull testicle sashimi.
Awful? No, offal
A Big Island tasting event lends flavorful touches to unusual animal parts
WAIKOLOA, Big Island » Just the thought of offal can be awful. But the reality of eating animal parts such as testicles, tongue, hearts, tripe and oxtail can be quite delicious if they've been well-prepared by experienced hands.
Such was the case at the Taste of the Hawaiian Range event Friday at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, with its emphasis on Big Island beef, lamb, mutton, poultry and goat.
At this event, coordinated by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, prime cuts like beef tenderloin are nowhere to be seen, but ranchers supply all the other beef parts -- chuck, top and bottom round, brisket, shoulder clods, flap, skirt, flank, sirloin tip and ground beef, each assigned to a chef to prepare for a thousand attendees.
And then there are the less than familiar parts, those referred to as offal, or variety meats, that make even a foodie like me a little squeamish.
Perhaps more than any other part, mountain oysters -- bull's testicles -- are the least desired, and the part few chefs want anything to do with. These are the part cut off a calf so the animal will grow meatier and be less aggressive. Ranging in size from an egg to a small football, the mountain oyster is usually peeled, washed, sliced, seasoned with salt and pepper, rolled in flour and fried. A dipping sauce, usually spicy, is always served alongside.
Judges for a mountain oysters cook-off are hard to come by, but I volunteered for the Kohala Mountain Oyster Cookoff. Willie Pirngruber, food and beverage director of the Hilton Waikoloa, and freelance writer Deston Nokes were also pressed into service. Pirngruber just wanted to get on with the judging, not too excited about eating calf fries, another name for mountain oysters. But Nokes was adventuresome, relishing each bite.
Well-prepared, a Kohala Mountain oyster has a pretty neutral flavor with a slightly chewy texture. With a deep-fried, crisp outer coating, a morsel could taste like a chicken McNugget; a sauce of some kind really does add to the taste experience.
THREE RANCHERS were entered in the Kohala Mountain Oyster Cookoff, each one professing to have plenty of experience cooking up this delicacy when the branding of calves and mountain-oyster harvesting occurs on their ranches.
Mark Thorne of the College of Tropical Agriculture staff at Mealani Research Station was a last-minute stand in for a contestant who dropped out. But he grew up eating mountain oysters in Wyoming and seemed eminently qualified. He simply battered and fried his, lacing them with onions, garlic and a little Hawaiian chili pepper. His preparation came in second, probably because his slices were smaller than those of Jesse Hoopai of Lazy 5 Ranch in Waimea, whose buttermilk-dipped morsels were a bit chewy. Hoopai's Thai-style sweet chili sauce was a good accompaniment.
The winner was Jeri Moniz of KK Ranch in the northeastern corner of the Big Island, who served deep-fried and sashimi mountain oysters. Yes, raw sliced mountain oyster, a dubious treat only Nokes could stomach: "It was like a raw oyster, though less slimy. It was fine."
BILL HARBY / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
The raw bull testicle sashimi morsel was offered by contestant Jeri Moniz of KK Ranch at last week's Taste of the Hawaiian Range. Moniz won first place out of three contestants, although the prize came more for her deep-fried mountain oysters, served with a sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar and chili pepper sauce.
Moniz's fried mountain oysters were definitely a hit, dipped in a soy sauce, vinegar and chili pepper sauce and topped with tomato, onion and cilantro relish.
Thankfully, there were only three contestants, because I was on an offal roll and I had decided to sample the creativity of the chefs assigned to other variety meats.
Although not part of the competition, Executive Chef Edwin Goto of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows also prepared Kohala Mountain Oysters, more than 60 pounds of them for hungry attendees. His thin slices were encrusted in crushed potato chips, deep-fried and drizzled with a lemony onion and ginger sauce and garnished with fresh pea tendrils. They were crunchy and slightly chewy on the inside and the silky sauce provided a nice balance to the coating.
AMY KANESHIRO of Oahu was anxious to try her first mountain oyster. "I read about it in the newspaper; it's something different," she said as she waited in a 20-person-deep line to taste Goto's creation. After her first bite, she said: "It tastes like chicken; he disguised it well. I'd go back for another."
Beef heart was assigned to Sergio Perez, chef at the Hawaiian Vanilla Co. in Paauilo. He laid his heart out in thin strips and grilled the skewered morsels to tender perfection. Well-masked in a marinade of Peruvian rocotto chili, Mexican ancho and pasilla chilis, salt, pepper and a touch of vanilla, Perez admitted his preparation didn't resemble heart at all.
Stanley Kimura, a chef at Tante's restaurant in Waimea, prepared Paniolo Chili with beef tongue. The meat finely diced, Kimura's chili was well-seasoned with chipotle chili, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, oregano and other ingredients. If you didn't know you were eating tongue, you would never have guessed it, the tongue melting into the well-seasoned sauce.
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TRIPE, the stomach lining of a cow, was assigned to Hilton Waikoloa Village Executive Chef Ken Omiya. "I had to cook it for four to five hours to get it soft and take away the smell," said Omiya, who used lots of ginger and garlic, and a liquid seasoned with ham hock for a smoky note. Then he added carrots, celery, onions and tomatoes for a classic tripe stew. "A little rice and mac salad on the side would be good," Omiya said as tasters offered compliments.
Oxtail is not as fearsome a variety cut as some of the others; after all, we do love oxtail soup and stew. Brett Villarmia, sous chef at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, braised oxtails in a red wine sauce, removed the meat from the bone and served it in a pastry shell surrounded by a creamy pool of mascarpone cheese with a black truffle accent. The sauce alone was worth the bite, but the oxtail, too, was quite tasty.
Like the many mountain oyster preparations I tasted, disguise was the operative word for all the variety meats offered up that night. The offal turned out to not be awful, after all, though I'm not sure I'd rush to order any of them on a menu. If I'm eating a cow, I'll take the tenderloin, please.
What's new in the Big Island food basket
Products featured at Taste of the Hawaiian Range last week:
Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in Kona will soon be offering snack-size 3-ounce bars of its milk and dark chocolate in new packaging. And the promise of a pure criollo chocolate bar is on the horizon.
Kiawe beans were once a feed source for cattle. Richard Spiegel of Volcano Island Honey obtains honey from kiawe tree nectar. But he's now looking at the bean as a source of nutrition in the form of a kiawe bean drink and kiawe bean flour for baked goods, noting that it may be helpful to diabetics
Hawaii Big Island Beef is a new beef company headquartered in Paauilo on the Big Island. The company represents a merger of Andrade Processing facility/J&J's Meat Markets and Hawaii Beef Producers and will launch a showcase brand of all natural Hawaiian beef products.
North Shore Fire Rock Beer Sausage is a new beef sausage featuring Kona Brewing Co. Fire Rock Beer and pasture-raised beef from North Shore Cattle Co. of Oahu. The great-on-the-grill treat will soon be available in Oahu supermarkets, as well as the KCC Farmers Market.Figs will be the next fruit crop that foodies can look forward to, says tropical fruit grower Ken Love of Captain Cook. Many farmers are planting fig trees, to bear fruit within a year. Best Farm in Waimea offers figs at the Waimea Farmers Market, too.
Guava-wood-smoked goat cheese is the latest offering from Hawaii Island Goat Dairy in Ahualoa. Dick and Heather Threlfall's pyramid-shaped block has been offered on many a Big Island restaurant table.
Joan Namkoong, Special to the Star-Bulletin