Why It Works
- Overnight rest in the refrigerator gives salt time to work itself into the steak, seasoning it more deeply and loosening its protein structure to help it retain more moisture internally as the steak cooks.
- Leaving the seasoned steak uncovered on a wire rack also allows for surface area to evaporate, creating a dry pellicle on the exterior of the meat, vastly improving its browning capabilities.
- Searing the relatively lean steak in a ripping hot skillet in neutral oil ensures it will quickly develop a brown crust before the meat has a chance to overcook.
- Flipping frequently will ensure the meat will cook more evenly from edge to center.
- Boil the potatoes first so that their starches partially gelatinize, allowing you to create an ultra-crisp crust when you fry them later in steak drippings.
Cooking a big, bone-in, bison ribeye steak is not all that different from cooking a big, bone-in, beef ribeye steak, but there are some key differences, chiefly incurred by bison's relative lack of the intramuscular fat known as marbling. The lacy, pale white, spider-webbed fat that winds its way through a grain-finished bovine steer can provide both lubrication for a fuller, juicier, flavor, and insulation for gentler, more even cooking.
Take a look at a bison rib steak, on the other hand, and you'll find a near-solid mass of red meat with a thin sinew of fat running between the main eye of meat (the longissimus for the physiologically inclined) and the cap (the spinalis).
First and foremost, it means that heat will travel into the meat faster than it would in a regular beef steak. This means that not only will it take less time overall to reach the same internal temperature (the difference is somewhere between 10 to 15%), but it will also require more care to build up a good crackling crust before the interior overcooks.
Super high heat helps, and we'll get to that, but even before you begin to heat a pan, there are steps you can take to ensure success.
The biggest bottleneck when building up a browned crust on a steak is the energy that is required to evaporate surface moisture from the steak.
You see, until all of that surface moisture evaporates, it is impossible for your steak to reach the high temperatures required to trigger the Maillard browning reactions. When you add a freshly cut, moist steak to a hot pan, for the first several minutes, all you're doing is wasting time evaporating surface moisture before it can even begin to think about starting to brown. With a fatty beef steak, you can get away with this. With bison, you run the risk of overcooking the steak to the center before the exterior can brown properly.
Season the steak and let it rest uncovered in the refrigerator overnight on a wire rack. This accomplishes two goals. First, it gives a bit of time for the salt to work itself into the meat, seasoning it more deeply, and more importantly, loosening its protein structure to help it retain more moisture internally as the steak cooks. Secondly, it allows for surface area to evaporate, creating a dry pellicle on the exterior of the meat that vastly improves its browning capabilities.
Note: This short-term drying is not to be confused with true dry-aging, a enzymatic and bacterial process that takes a minimum of several weeks before any noticeable effects are produced. You can read up on that here.
With a dry surface, you should have no problem getting a good sear in a ripping hot cast iron skillet. For the best results, start with a neutral oil with a high smoke point such as canola, vegetable, or peanut, and heat it up until it's smoking hot. The 600°F+ (316°C) range is what we're going for here. Lay the steak in gently, then cook it, flipping it relatively frequently as you go.
You may have been scolded in the past for frequently flipping meat, but in fact, frequent flips will not only brown your meat as well as using the single flip method, but it will also cook your meat more evenly from edge to center. This is especially important for a lean cut of bison, which has a tendency to get tough if overcooked.
Once the steak has begun to develop a crust, it's time to add a bit of fat and flavor. Because of its leanness, bison benefits from a good basting with butter and aromatics even more than a standard beef steak does. To do this, add a knob of butter to the pan, reduce the heat slightly to prevent it from scorching, and add a handful of herbs and aromatics like rosemary, thyme, and garlic.
Keep cooking the steak, turning it occasionally, and tilting the pan so you can spoon the hot butter over the meat's surface, helping it to cook and brown more deeply, and depositing flavor with every spoonful.
There you go...
The last step where bison differs from beef is that because of its lack of fat, it'll actually carry over cooking after you remove it from the pan even more than beef does. When you take a steak out of a hot skillet, its outer layers are much hotter than the center. As it rests, that heat travels inward, increasing its core temperature by several degrees. In the case of a rib steak, it can rise by as much as 5°F during a 10-minute rest. For lean bison with less insulating fat and a higher heat capacity, this goes up to around 10°F.
This means that you'll have to pull it out of the skillet a little bit sooner than you would a normal steak. Make sure to use a thermometer if you want perfect, reliable results!
What to do while that steak rests? How about we fry off some nice fingerling potatoes in its drippings?
The best way to do this is to boil the potatoes first so that their starches partially gelatinize. This allows you to create an ultra-crisp crust when you subsequently fry them, just like the blanching step for a good french fry. If you've got your potatoes boiled and split, they should crisp up in just about the time it takes for your steak to rest.
Want to make sure that your steak keeps its crackling crust right before serving? Just reheat the drippings until smoking hot after taking the potatoes out, then pour 'em right back over the resting steak to crisp up the surface.
As it turns out, lean doesn't have to mean dry or flavorless!
1 bone-in bison rib steak, 1 3/4- to-2 inches thick, about 1- to- 1 1/4 pounds total
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound fingerling potatoes
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tablespoons vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 garlic cloves, smashed
Season steak liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Set on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and place in refrigerator uncovered overnight.
Meanwhile, place potatoes in a medium pot, cover with water, season with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 10 minutes total. Meanwhile, remove leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary and 1 sprig of thyme and finely chop. Set aside. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Potatoes can be cooked through this stage up to a day in advance and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy-bottomed cast-iron skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Carefully add steak and cook, flipping frequently, until a pale golden brown crust starts to develop, about 4 minutes total.
Reduce heat to medium. Add 3 tablespoons butter, garlic, whole rosemary sprigs, and whole thyme sprigs to the skillet and continue to cook, flipping steak occasionally, and basting any light spots with foaming butter. To baste, tilt pan slightly so that butter collects by handle. Use a spoon to pick up butter and pour it over steak, aiming at light spots.
Continue flipping and basting until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of steak side registers 115 to 120°F (46 to 49°C) for medium-rare, or 125°F (52°C) for medium, 6 to 8 minutes total. Immediately transfer steak to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and place herb sprigs and garlic on top. Allow steak to rest uncovered while you cook the potatoes.
Return skillet to medium-high heat and add remaining tablespoon butter. When foaming subsides, add potatoes, cut-side down. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until potatoes are deep golden brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Add chopped rosemary and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat potatoes. Cook, tossing and stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Transfer potatoes to a serving platter with a slotted spoon, leaving excess fat behind. Increase heat to high until leftover fat is smoking. Pour over resting steak. Discard garlic, rosemary, and thyme sprigs. Place steak on serving platter and serve immediately.
12-inch cast-iron skillet, wire rack, rimmed baking sheet, kitchen tongs, instant-read thermometer
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 76g||97%|
|Saturated Fat 32g||159%|
|Total Carbohydrate 37g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||12%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 26mg||128%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|