2 Guys, 3 Balls

…And a liver, some kidneys, and a heart.

What do you do when you find yourself, as Ian recently did, with a freezer full of deer parts? Of course everyone knows there’s only one realistic answer: feast.

And so, under the guise of a “venison dinner”—we had a lot of organs and glands that needed to get eaten, so we didn’t want our more delicate friends backing out—we got to work on the liver, kidneys, testicles, and heart that Ian had been saving in his freezer for just such an occasion. With “waste not, want not” as our creed, we devised a menu that would make the most of our deer innards.

To start: balls. Alan was on testicle duty, charged with making an hors d’oeuvre that would ease our guests into the evening. The ’nads were surprisingly plump, each looking like an overly rotund lima bean about to burst. Alan decided to roast the glands whole, then slice them and fold them into a spicy chile-and-mint spread. A great idea, but one small snag in the execution: Four testicles went into the oven, yet only three came out. Apparently, they have a tendency to explode if you don’t pierce them with a fork before cooking. Who knew? Nevertheless, the deeply perfumed spread was a hit. Laced with ribbons of fresh mint, it was so tasty that even the most squeamish of guests needed little prodding to have seconds.

When it was revealed to our guests that balls were just a warm-up, they were, of course, surprised. They had come expecting venison chili, maybe grilled deer steaks. Instead, the first course was Ian’s salad of parsley and Chioggia beets, topped with a sliced, breaded kidney. But before we knew it, plates were cleaned—suddenly, our friends had become very receptive to the idea of this surprise nose-to-tail dinner. The next course was heart à la Ian, braised in Old Chub ale and served over a rutabaga-and-carrot hash; the whole dish came together beautifully, creating something that reminded us of a gonzo riff on beef stew. And an entrée of seared liver, served medium rare with watercress salad and caramelized onions, was downright praiseworthy. One self-proclaimed liver lover gushed about the mild taste and silky texture of the deer liver, saying how hard it would be to return to the now-mundane calf’s liver. (For the record: We agreed.)

As we lingered over our dessert, a (deer-free) tarte tatin, we realized how beautifully the dinner had come off. Maybe it was the wine going to our heads, but there’s certainly a romance in savoring every part of an animal. Not simply eating organs for the sake of eating them, but feeling satisfaction in having found a way to enjoy everything. The best part for us was that nothing went to waste. Well, except that exploded testicle.

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