One Ingredient: COOKING WITH BISON
by Julie Van Rosendaal
Before European settlers arrived, an estimated 10 million bison
roamed the Canadian prairies. By the end of the 19th century,
their population had been reduced to less than 100, but recent
conservation efforts are restoring bison populations, along with
the native grassland that had, over the years, been altered for new
agricultural crops. Bison was, of course, a staple of First Nations
communities throughout Alberta – when we talk about indigenous
cuisine, bison should be at the heart of the menu.
Bison meat is lean, with about half the fat and cholesterol of beef, and is higher
in iron. (In fact, most cuts of bison contain less fat than skinless chicken, turkey,
or even halibut.) Because of its similarity to beef, people treat it the same way in
the kitchen, which can dry it out – the general rule of thumb when cooking bison
steaks and roasts is to reduce cooking time by about 30 percent, and always aim
for medium-rare. Or go low and slow and make a rich bison stew or braise some
short ribs or a pot roast.
Head to a farmers’ market or butcher to find more unique cuts, like steaks and
short ribs; they’ll be excited to introduce you to some new cuts, and advise you
how to cook it. When shopping for bison, the individual cuts are identical to beef –
tenderloin, striploin and so on – so they’re easy to identify. Many bison producers
wind up grinding perfectly good but intimidating cuts into burgers and sausage,
which home cooks find more approachable, so they’re more in demand.
Ground bison is an easy way to get your feet wet. It can be used just like beef in
chili, pasta sauces and such, but if you come across other cuts, pick some up as an
educational tool, as well as to support our local producers – as they often say, the
best way to nurture the bison population is to eat bison.
Read One Ingredient in the digital issue of City Palate.