Welcome to the twelfth guest post! I’m letting anyone who wants to write about an offal dish submit a post with pictures. Want to show everyone that fries are fantastic? Are you tremendous with tendon? Let me know and we’ll post your hard work here. This guest post comes from J. Ryan Horan.
Let this be known; you are about to read about balls. Not just any balls, but those prepared for a late summer meal. It may be difficult to get through this without fleeting giggles or cringing in a certain discomfort. However, I urge you, as if I were the chairman of the American Organization for Testicles on School Lunch Menus to not only read this through but to consider trying an organ meat that has been too long ignored by the dining community.
A word on some problematic nomenclature; when putting the below piece together, I really struggled with how to refer to the ingredient at hand. The term “Fry,” as in “Lamb Fry” is all wrong and must be discarded. It conveys neither dignity nor respect nor does it pretend to. It is a condescending affection, just as one might call a runty nephew “Champ” or “Sport.” However, to call the organ by name, a technique that is perfectly adequate (if not entirely creative) for most offal, risks the overly clinical handle “Testicle.” We are then left with the slightly sophomoric, “Ball.”
Thinking neither quite perfect, I was pleased when I learned that the French, in their love of all things genital and gustatory have already covered this with the evocative term, “animelles” which is at once dignified and enthralling. The name suggests that by consuming this meat one is getting to the true nature of the beast. That, anyway is the way that I prefer to interpret it. However, though I love France, I am not French and I will use what sticks. Balls it is.
I bought a pair from some very enthusiastic farmers in Cincinnati’s Findlay Market on a whim when I saw them listed at $1.25 a pound. These guys were actually selling all their offal at that price, lamb hearts and livers, beef tongues, heart and assorted chicken clockwork, a find that stuns me even now. The pair that I got were frozen solid which I don’t think does them a bit of harm, though in fairness I have no clue.
Prep is not for the fainthearted. Even in a family of anatomical meats, few things resemble their namesake quite as literally as balls. The street name, in other words is not simply metaphor. Furthermore lamb’s balls are not delicate little organs. These are not peensy kumquats that nestle in wooly little scrotums of boy lambs as they scamper among the daisies. Each one fills the hand and has the heft and resilience of a soft-boiled egg. These, my friends are whopping big balls.
Complicating things from the standpoint of squeamishness, balls are identical in form and function amongst all members of the mammal class. If you ask a person what he thought his set looks like, he would describe to the vein, that which now rests on my cutting board. The key difference being that what rests on my cutting board is nearly the size of a closed fist.
Enclosing each individual organ is a tough translucent sack that must be removed, as does the ropey, purple duct attached to each. Once peeled (really just a matter of slicing open the sack and popping out the organ), the texture is cheerful, almost jolly. They have a lively bounce and a pearlescent sheen that is just lovely. It does remind me of one of offal’s finest virtues; it is dead simple to know when it is fresh.
Because I am impatient, I choose to skip the proscribed step of soaking, blanching and marinating the balls and opt instead for a simple dredge in flour and sauté in brown butter, fried sage and a bit of lemon.
It is a bit difficult to divide each organ evenly, as the meat is quite soft. There is a thin membrane enclosing each piece. Wanting neat slices, I discard the ends for three even rounds. Both texturally and visually, they are identical to scallop.
In the pan, the slices give off the faintest smell of lamb, but only barely. It’s difficult to describe, exactly. I suppose I am struck not by how it does smell but more by how it doesn’t. There is no heady cloud of browning meat or rendering fat, just butter, sage and a faint odor of lamb. The smell is great. The browned pieces go right onto a slice of fried bread topped with the pan juices.
Ok. There are plenty of odd cuts that I really, truly enjoy; pig’s feet, tongue, brains, blood sausage. But balls? Balls are excellent. I don’t mean that they are, “actually pretty tasty,” “surprisingly good” or “better than expected.” I mean that balls are a damn fine thing to eat, full stop. They belong on a list of favorite foods right next to Haribo gummi bears, thick sliced bacon and oyster po-boys. The texture once cooked is again, identical to scallop and they have a flavor that is mild but unlike any meat, organ or otherwise that I have had to date. This is the sort of thing that in a more forgiving world would be wrapped in bacon and grilled for Superbowl Parties or deep fried and eaten on a sandwich (Lamb-ball Parm?) at construction sites. They are that good.
I just wish there were more than two to a pack.
Thanks Mr. Horan!