Tim Aylward dropped slices of mountain oysters into a frying pan Saturday as he prepared his first-place dish during a cookoff at Kualoa Ranch.


By Betty Shimabukuro

A mountain oyster is the private part of a bull. Not the long, singular, primary private part, but the bulbous one that tends to come in pairs.

Now that we all understand the subject matter, let's talk about eating these slimy little shiny ... uh ... things.

Oh, stop your squeamish whining. If you're going to be a carnivore, you need to think beyond the appetizing cuts of meat and consider the more animalistic parts. What makes you so delicate, anyway?

Normally, when Terry Shintaku calls, it's not a scary thing. He raises tomatoes -- the sweet Hauula variety that's the tomato of choice at so many restaurants around town.

But when he called the other day it was in his capacity as an organizer of the Nissan Extreme Rodeo at Kualoa Ranch, and in his sub-capacity as organizer of the rodeo's first Mountain Oyster Cookoff. He needed a judge.

Now, when you write about food for a living, you get asked to judge a lot of cooking contests, which means eating a lot of strange (and sometimes frightening) things, but I must say, no one has ever wanted me to eat bull testicles.

Aylward took home the trophy for his winning dish, a sauté with mushrooms and a port wine sauce. The trophy is a "Bully Bag," made of the cured sac that once contained the mountain oysters -- the oyster shell, so to speak.

To be a judge of this particular contest was a dubious distinction, as Shintaku had been turned down by a number of people before he got to me. A bunch of squeamish whiners, no doubt (you know who you are).

So anyway, on Saturday, I ate my first mountain oyster and lived to tell the tale.

The cookoff was short on contestants as well. Only two brave souls stepped forward, neither of whom had worked with this ingredient before.

Shintaku brought them samples for practicing.

"Last week he dropped off a big bag of them," said first-place winner Tim Aylward of American Restaurant Supply. "I needed some to play with." So to speak.

Aylward is a fan of mountain oysters, having had them in their classic presentation, battered, fried and served with ranch dressing.

For his winning dish, he started with that idea, breading and frying slices of the oysters, but then he sautéed them with mushrooms in a port wine sauce. A garnish of fresh tomatoes went on top, and it was all served on a crispy crouton. As the judges approached their plates, he called out, "Just grab it by the crouton." So to speak.

"This is a chicken liver recipe I adapted," Aylward said. "I thought, 'Let's assume they taste like chicken.' "

Which they don't, really. Once Aylward got them doused with that wine sauce, they tasted like sausage. In an unadulterated state, plain poached, they tasted like liver.

Mountain oysters resemble pale sausages and are denser than you'd think -- they're easy to slice.

That's how contestant No. 2, Cora Stevens of Simply Ono, prepped her oysters -- well done after a simmering in chicken stock. She chopped them up and mixed them into a risotto, complete with saffron, which pretty much disguised the taste.

Both dishes were quite good, but Aylward scored extra points for better preserving the integrity, shall we say, of the ingredient.

The mountain oysters came from Rocker G Livestock, which is affiliated with New Town and Country Stables in Waimanalo. Cory Gibson, whose parents own both enterprises, said the testicles are removed when the bull calves are 6 or 7 months old, at the same time they are branded and dewormed. (Kinda makes you want to cross your legs, doesn't it, guys?) The baby bull is then turned into a steer, more docile, easier to handle and to fatten up.

Gibson said the harvesting happens three times a year, involving about 150 bull calves. The 300 resulting oysters are consumed in-house. "The guys that work with us normally take them home ... Lots of guys mix beer and Bisquick, make a batter and fry them."

Mountain oysters, also called prairie oysters or animelles (in French), are a delicacy in parts of Europe, right up there with sweetbreads, the thymus glands of various animals. They look like sausages in natural casings, 3 to 6 inches long and are not as slippery as you'd expect.

Larry Trott, a fellow judge and the chef at One Kalakaua retirement community, said he's enjoyed mountain oysters grilled whole, like sausage, and sprinkled with Hawaiian salt. He also said he's heard that the up-and-coming trend is turkey testicles (these are carried internally by the bird, near the liver).

IN THIS COUNTRY, we tend to celebrate these exotic meat parts not as gourmet delicacies, but as weirdness. Use your Internet search engine to look for "testicle festivals" and you'll find one devoted annually to bull parts in Clinton, Mont., and one devoted to turkey parts in Byron, Ill. (featuring a "Run for the Nuts"). And those are just the major ones.

At the Montana Testicle Festival, sometimes called the Testy Festy, more than 8,000 show up to consume "4,500 pounds of carefully prepared, beer-marinated, secret-recipe-breaded, deep-fried bull testicles." On his Web site, festival founder Rod Lincoln says the ingredient should appeal to the health-conscious since "they're 70 percent or more protein, and, obviously, they're boneless."

Well, our little oyster fest involved maybe six people, but a good time was had by all, especially those of us who washed it all down with beer. By the end, Shintaku was talking about a second annual event, and Trott was saying he's sure lots more chefs would enter if invited.

Let's see. That means judging will amount to more than just a couple bites from two plates.

Can't wait.

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