Buffalo Roam Again
The North American bison (buffalo) is starting to roam again onto the plates of restaurants and the meat counters of butcher shops and natural food stores. After faltering in the 1990′s when producers were left with a surplus of burger meat and chuck roasts, while supplying a growing demand for tenderloins and rib-eyes, sales have rebounded growing 21 percent in first half of 2007 alone. According to the USDA there were 23,796 buffalo slaughtered during that period. This of course pales in comparison of the 125,000 head of cattle a day sent to market. The recent comeback, which began in 2003, is based on a more balanced product line with pot roast, skirt steaks and ground buffalo selling as well as the choice cuts and a better-established distribution network.
“We’re always going to be a niche part of the red meat market, we don’t ever see ourselves being another beef, but the type of growth that we’re experiencing is real healthy.” States Dave Carter, director of the National Bison Association.
Carter continues. “The more mature industry now sits in the sweet spot of three major trends in the marketplace — the move toward sustainable and locally produced food, consumers’ desire for different food experiences and their push for more healthy food alternatives.”
Bison is a nutritious native meat, grown on grass, with a distinct taste, low in fat and high in protein with no chemicals or growth hormones. On any menu it brings distinction and a touch of adventure. Restaurants now buy between 70 and 80 percent of the buffalo meat produced. Bison has been a staple at Turner’s restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill, and it also has been catching on at regional brew pubs, small local restaurants and even large chains. Ruby Tuesday’s menu features a bison burger and Rock Bottom Brewery restaurants serve buffalo fajitas.
Shoppers in western areas like Denver can find bison meat in their conventional supermarkets, but others across the country may need to explore their higher-end grocers or natural food markets to find bison meat. Most restaurant meat purveyors have sources for bison meat cuts and of course all game meat suppliers carry it. Any dish that calls for beef can be adapted to bison.
For ten years I served bison steaks, burgers, stews and chili with great customer acceptance. It is by far the most mild flavored of all the game meat we used. Buffalo burgers have about 12% fat compared to the usual 20% for beef. Cooking to full done or 160 F will yield about 12 ounces for every pound of raw meat. Ground buffalo will cook faster than beef due to low fat content. The key is to cook it slowly on low heat.
There is no such thing as tough buffalo meat only improperly instructed cooks. Although buffalo meat is similar to beef, it needs to be handled and cooked differently. You will find most recipes for other red meats can be adapted to bison. The important things to remember are, DO NOT OVER COOK, and do not let the meat dry out. Individual cuts of bison appear identical to beef, except for color. Prior to cooking, bison meat is darker, a dark, rich red. This coloring is due to the fact that bison meat does not marble (produce internal streaks of fat) like beef. Fat is an insulator and heat must first penetrate this insulation before the cooking process begins. In other red meats, fat also provides some of the moisture. Bison, with its low fat content, does not need to be cooked as long with as high a temperature to get the job done.
Remember ‘low and slow,’ Cook bison meat to the same doneness that you prefer in beef. I recommend rare to medium rare for steaks. Overcooked or dried out bison steaks will bring you the same results as other meats that are overcooked. If you must have your meat well done, consider one of the very low temperature (180-200 F) recipes, where the meat is cooked for 10 hours or more. Very slow, moist heat works especially well with the less tender cuts of bison, such as chuck. There is nothing to compare with a bison chuck roast cooked all day in a slow cooker. With slow cooking, you do not have to worry about overcooking. I used an Alto-Sham cooker.
Researchers at the South Dakota State University Experiment Station tested different cuts of buffalo roast cooked at different temperatures and with different methods. Taste panels then evaluated the roasts according to texture, juiciness and tenderness. In general, as the oven temperature increased and the internal temperature of the roast rose to well done texture, juiciness and tenderness scores went down. The most acceptable meat is produced when cooked in a slow oven (275 F) to a medium internal temperature.
Grill steaks 4-6 inches above medium hot coals (325 degrees) for the following times, depending on thickness:
1′ thick – Rare: 6 – 8 min. Medium: 8 – 10 min.
1 1/2′ thick – Rare: 8 – 10 min. Medium: 10 – 12 min.
2′ thick – Rare: 10 – 12 min. Medium 14 – 18 min.
Steaks recommended for grilling/barbecuing include Rib Eyes, T-Bones, and New York Strips. Lesser quality Bison steaks are not recommended for grilling unless they have been marinated. Using a fork to turn steaks punctures the meat, so use tongs for turning and keep those wonderful juices in the steak. Bison steaks taste best when grilled to rare or medium (still pink in the center). Cooking time is important to avoid overcooking
For burgers medium heat is recommended and it is even more important to not drive off the internal moisture. Particularly for ground meat or any kind, the FDA has recommended for restaurants that meat be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 F. The US Department of Agriculture recommends 160 F and because of the difficulty in determining the internal temperature of a burger patty without special equipment, recommends that burger patties be cooked to the point where the pink is just disappearing. In order for the meat to retain its moisture, it is helpful to use a cover, whether on a gas or charcoal grill, or the lid on a sauté pan (skillet). Burger patties made by hand, say 6 ounces and about 1/2 to 5/8 inches thick, do much better at retaining their moisture than the machine made type. We used machine made at times and they produced a tougher dryer burger than those we formed ourselves.
Ground bison meat may be used as a substitute for ground beef in most recipes. Since ground bison contains very little fat, once again moderate temperatures will help insure that the meat does not scorch. With ground bison meat, what you see raw is what you get when it is cooked, as the meat does not shrink much in cooking.
Microwave cooking is as possible with bison as it is with beef or any other red meat. Using a lower setting will give you better control over the cooking process. Avoid overcooking. Products from a microwave oven continue to cook for several minutes after the oven is turned off, whether removed from the oven or not.
Stir fry is an excellent method of cooking bison. Cut the meat into small strips or cubes. Be sure to use just a drop of olive oil or a polyunsaturated oil to coat the pan. Remember, bison cooks quickly so have your onion, green and red peppers, pea pods, etc. ready to toss in the wok. Heat the oil only enough to sear the meat, toss the meat quickly around, and then add the other foods. Proceed as the recipe calls for but keeping the heat down some. The short cooking times in stir fry recipes are excellent for cooking bison.
Fifty Million bison once roamed the North American plains, but their numbers dropped to nearly 1,000 by the late 1800s. Some 500,000 bison now graze on ranches in the U.S. and Canada and the species’ remarkable comeback can be attributed to private ranchers raising buffalo as a food source for the past quarter century. One buffalo rancher stated “It’s kind of counterintuitive that the best way to save a bison is to eat it,” The Yellowstone bison are the last free roaming heard left in the United States. The cattlemen and sate of Montana each year give this heard its hardest obstacle to overcome. When they venture outside the boundary of Yellowstone hunters await their arrival. Sorry to say that hunting buffalo is about as sporting as killing a cow in a pasture.
This first recipe was used by chefs on the Northern Pacific dining cars when buffalo was still killed along the right of way by hunters and was the fresh meat on the table.
Native Buffalo Steak
8 Oz Buffalo sirloin steak
1 Slice Fried Tomato
1 Slice Fried Egg Plant
2 Pc mushroom caps; Sautéed
1/2 Slice Bacon; Fried
Rub a little lemon juice on both sides of buffalo steak. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Cook steak on both sides in butter or broiler. Garnish with fried tomato, eggplant, mushroom and bacon. Yield: 1 serving Preparation Time: 0:30
Braised Bison, Mushroom Sage Gravy & Wild Rice Fritter
2 lb Lean bison chuck or round steak, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tb Balsamic vinegar
1/2 ts Freshly ground black pepper
2 ts Minced fresh sage
2 tb Canola oil
1 c Chopped onions
2 Cloves garlic, minced
2 tb Flour
1 c Cabernet sauvignon wine
1 c Beef stock
1 c Wild mushrooms
1 tb Chopped fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground Pepper to taste
Wild Rice Fritters:
1/4 c Butter
1/2 c Chopped onions
1/2 c All-purpose flour
1/4 c Rye flour
1 ts Baking powder
1/4 ts each, salt and pepper
1/2 c Sour cream
1/4 c Milk
1 c Cooked wild rice
2 tb Canola oil
This modern interpretation of a traditional Native stew is slow cooked and flavored with fresh sage, a wild plant on the prairies. Serve it over wild rice fritters for traditional taste.
Combine bison with vinegar, pepper and 2 teaspoons of sage and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and brown the bison over high heat in batches. Set aside the meat as it’s cooked. Add the onions and garlic to the drippings in the pan and sauté 5 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add the flour and stir to combine. Slowly stir in the wine, stock, and wild mushrooms with their soaking liquid. Return the meat to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer the stew for 1-2 hours or until the bison is very tender. Stir in the fresh sage and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with wild rice fritters.
Wild Rice Fritters:
Sauté onions in butter until tender. Combine the flours, baking powder, salt and pepper. Whisk together the egg, sour cream and milk. Quickly stir the wet ingredients into the dry to form a batter. Let stand 10 minutes. Fold in the sautéed onion and cooked wild rice. Heat canola oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. Using 2-3 tablespoons of batter per fritter, cook for 2 minutes a side, until browned and cooked through. Serve the fritters as a base for the
braised bison and mushrooms. Yields: 4 servings. From High Plains: The Joy of Alberta Cuisine by Cinda Chavich
Besides braised here are a couple recipes that uses ribs:
BBQ Bison Short Ribs
4 lb Bison Short Ribs
1 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped onions
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbs. vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tbs. prepared mustard
Cut ribs into serving pieces. Place in large saucepan with enough water to cover. Cover and simmer until ribs are nearly tender. Combine rest of ingredients in small saucepan
and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Arrange ribs, meat side up, in shallow baking dish. Spoon sauce over ribs.cover and seal with heavy duty aluminum foil. Bake at 250° for 2 hours. Serves 6-8.
East-West Braised Buffalo Short Ribs
3 lb buffalo (bison) short ribs
2 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 can (19 oz./540 ml) pineapple
1 chunks in their own juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 canned chipotle chili in
1 adobo sauce (or
2 teaspoon chipotle hot sauce)
1 cup water
1 salt and freshly ground
1 black pepper
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper
1 seeded and sliced
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat and saute the ribs in batches until they are nicely browned. Drain off and discard any accumulated fat, then return the ribs to the pan. In a food processor, combine the soy sauce, canned pineapple and juice, sugar, honey, hoisin sauce, onion, ginger, garlic and chipotle chili.Process until sauce is smooth. Stir in the water and pour over the browned ribs. Cover tightly with a lid or with foil and bake at 300F for 2 hours, until ribs are extremely tender. Remove the ribs from
the sauce with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Degrease the sauce if necessary and simmer it over medium heat until it is reduced and nicely thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the sliced red and yellow peppers and cook together for 5 minutes. Return the ribs to the sauce and stir gently to heat through. Serve over rice. Serves 4-6.