My First Taste of Bison

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I have discovered the perfect “something new” to grill this Labor Day.

Last weekend I was at a wedding in Potosi, Missouri. The groom’s family raises shrimp in Nicaragua, and Maggie is the descendant of Midwestern cattle ranchers, who grew up on a farm full of buffalo. The groom’s father raised a glass at the rehearsal dinner to the well-matched pair, dubbing them “Surf and Turf.” And that’s exactly what we ate. Nicaraguan shrimp, and Maggie’s Missouri buffalo.

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You'll notice the fine marbling in raw bison meat.

I learned a lot in Missouri. First, that these American “buffalo” are truly called bison. I’m not as adventurous as I should be when it comes to eating meat, but I’d heard that “buffalo” meat is especially lean. What struck me as I saw the slices of roast beef-style bison on my plate was how fine the marbling was. Marbling is, of course, something we all look for in meat to ensure tenderness, but I personally hate the texture of fat, and for me, it’s a difficult balancing act.

But I read that three ounces of bison meat contain 93 calories, compared with 183 calories in the same amount of beef. It contains 1.8 grams of fat, compared with 8.7 in the beef. It is lower in cholesterol, and higher in nutrients such as beta carotene and protein.

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All health perks aside, what stuck with me most about the bison was its texture and flavor. It was so lean, so finely marbled—and yet much more tender, and softer, than beef. The flavor was more delicate, less pronounced, but still satisfyingly meaty. It instantaneously became my favorite meat, although, rather uncomfortably, a large herd of American bison grazed out in the pasture just yards from where we were eating.

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As soon as I got home, I knew I wanted to try making bison myself. I bought a two-pound, two-inch thick sirloin steak today for a bargain $8.99 a pound. I sprinkled it with mesquite seasoning, because the bison I’d had in Missouri was distinctly smoky, and I don’t have a charcoal grill. Then I seared it eight minutes on the first side, turning once to establish some serious grill marks, and then around six and a half minutes on the second side, turning again for that crosshatch pattern. I let the meat rest for ten minutes, then sliced it in thick, meaty slices against the grain. I served it to my mother and stepfather, neither of whom had ever eaten bison before.

My mother, who hardly touches red meat, was astonished by the lightness of the bison. And my step-father, who likes his beef wrapped in bacon and fried in butter, said he never wanted a piece of cow again as long as he lived. The smell, he insisted, was sweeter, and the texture simply superior. My one caution is to never overcook buffalo; serve it medium rare. But really I can’t imagine an instance where I would choose beef above bison.

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It also meant a lot to me that the buffalo I was eating roamed free on farms of nearly a thousand acres, that they were given no hormones or antibiotics—that they seemed, after a bloody American West history, to be faring better than many of their livestock brethren. At Whole Foods, where I bought my bison, I noticed cuts of filet mignon, sirloin, strip steak, and ground buffalo meat, which I will definitely be turning into bison burgers later this week.

Every wedding has something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. For Maggie, bison were a very old tradition indeed. But for me, they were something new. It was love at first bite!

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