Foods You Should Know: Bison

First off, if while you read this you sense bitterness or anger it’s because this is the second time I’ve written this piece today because WordPress has decided to randomly not allow me to post while at the same time not saving my drafts. So if I come off punchy or pissed off, it’s because those fucking morons that I pay money to, can’t make text properly show up on my blog, decided to fuck about instead of having their applications work properly. So enjoy this post and know there was something better that I wrote earlier today that has disappeared into the fucking ether through no fault of my own. Fuckity Bye.

Before the 20th century the American Bison was a huge source of meat meat in North America. These large nomadic grazing mammals are closely related to cattle. By the end of the 19th century American Bison were on the brink of extinction because of over hunting.

After about a hundred years of protection and breeding American Bison has made a come back. While at the same time their meat made a return to north american kitchens as a environmentally, culinary and health conscience beef alternative.

The American Bison also known as The American Buffalo*, for thousands of years roamed and grazed on the North American plains. From as far north as Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories in Canada to as far south as the Mexican regions of Durango and Nuevo Leon, as far west as the Sierra Madres, and as far east as Kentucky and Tennessee. This huge area of inhabitation made these animals very well suited to handle all kinds of different environments.**

Over the past few decades farmers have began to raise Bison for their meat. In this time they found that Bison too less work to produce more meat. Since Bison have evolved to eat many different types of plant matter they can be allowed to graze over large and less developed swaths of land. The Bison also are usually raised without the aid of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals because they can feed on more wild grasses and they have evolved to be resistant to local disease***. As well because of the Bison’s more wide ranged diet they don’t need to travel as far for food, this means that there is less work that goes into herding them. Which makes their production have a smaller carbon footprint than cattle.

Bison Meat is also quite healthy as compared to beef for a number of reasons. First is that it contains about 1/3rd of the fat of beef. One serving of Bison has nearly all of your daily intake of Iron, Zinc and Protien. It also offers the minimum daily intake of Selenium which is a mineral we rarely get enough of and effects anxiety and depression.   When you take this all into account along with the hormone free, antibiotic free, and organic production methods that are commonly used in Bison farming it really is a great product to use in your kitchen.

There are a few draw backs to adding Bison to your diet. First is the expense. It is commonly between 20% and 75% more expensive than beef depending on where you live in Canada or the United States. This pricing difference is most due to the economics of how we get our food.

In Canada cattle farmers have been subsidized by the government to produce beef for decades, and because of this the production and distribution of beef has become streamlined and cheap. We produce too much, and because of that, the quality of the meat suffers. I am not saying Canada produces bad beef, I am saying that mass production and distribution of any fresh food product leads to it’s homogenization and movement towards a lower quality product. Bison has yet to really factory farmed and we can see in it’s quality that unless you are getting premium or gourmet canadian beef products there is a marked difference between ground bison and packaged ground beef.

As the quality of the above^ paragraph will illustrate, bison meat can be quite dry if not prepared properly.  Because of it’s low fat content bison needs to be cooked a little bit differently. Below is a few good tips on how to prepare bison.

Bison Preparation Tip #1.

When browning ground bison I recommend pinching off slightly larger chunks of the ground meat. These bigger pieces have less surface area and will cook slower than finely minced meat. As well I find that browning bison at a lower heat than you would beef really helps to preserve the fat in the meat without burning it off. Even starting your pan with a tiny bit of grape seed oil can make all the difference as the blend of the oil and the fat will raise the smoke point and you will get a lot less fat burning in the pan.

Bison Preparation Tip #2.

When dealing with a Bison steak. It is important to get a really nice sear on the meat. This will go a long way in locking in the juices. I like to heat up one side of the barbecue on high and the other on low to medium. Sear the steaks on one side of the grill and then transfer them to the cooler side of the grill and cooking them to medium rare or rare. Sorry people who like things well done, bison needs to be a bit under or you will lose the tiny but important bit of fat in the steak.

Bison Preparation Tip #3.

I believe I’ve done a piece on making stock****. So I will skip the how-to  but using bison bones to make stock is a great idea. If you are lucky enough to have a butcher who can sell you some bison marrow bones you can make a super rich and interesting stock. Just roast the bones and then add them to a pot of water an other ingredients and you can have a wonderful way to infuse that bison flavour into your dishes.

So I think this is about enough of our friend, the bison.

*A misnomer of sorts, as Buffalo is commonly used to describe The American Bison’s African cousin the Water Buffalo.

**Sadly they were poorly suited to escaping white men with rifles.

***Domesticated Cattle have their origins in Turkey and the middle east. They have evolved with a diet that is totally foreign to North America. Over the past 500 or so years, the ecological make up of North American has been changed by the addition of invasive plant species. Some of these invasive species were brought from europe for the expressed purpose of the production of beef. The ecosystem of the North American grass lands has totally transformed because of European settlement but the American Bison is still alive and kicking.

****I may be making this up. I know I did something on Bone Marrow but maybe not a stock how to. So look out for that in the future.