By Jennifer Bain, author of Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison
So is it bison or buffalo, people always ask me. I don’t blame them for being confused about North America’s original red meat.
Buffalo is the romantic name, the one that conjures up images of majestic animals with shaggy brown coats and striking humps. But bison (shortened from the species name Bison bison) is the proper name. The Canadian Bison Association wants producers to use the term bison, but most ranchers call their animals buffalo. I bet you’ve had buffalo burgers at casual eateries and bison steaks at fancier spots.
I take a bilingual approach, hence the name of my new adventure cookbook: Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison. I want to spread the message that the animal with two names is delicious. We eat beef and understand that it comes from cows. We should be able to eat bison and understand that it comes from buffalo (or the other way around).
Sixty million bison once roamed the North American grasslands and prairies, until they were hunted to near extinction. Just 1,000 animals remained by 1900. Thanks to ranchers, tribal nations and conservationists, we now have about 400,000 bison. But to save bison from disappearing, we really must eat them. They’re on the Slow Food Canada Ark of Taste.
My bison tastes like the shortgrass prairie where we raise several hundred Plains Bison on our 12,000-acre family ranch southeast of Lethbridge. Our bison freely wander seasonal pastures, grazing on native grasses. The 40 heaviest males (young bulls) from the herd are “finished” (brought up to slaughter weight) on hay in our corrals each year. We’re lucky to have so much land, native grasses and our own hay field. Some bison ranchers feed their animals cultivated grasses and finish them on grains. Some bison spend more time in corrals than ours, others spend much less. In other words, not all bison is created equal. If you want to eat this lean, rich, slightly sweet red meat, find a rancher (or butcher) and asks lots of questions.
So where can we buy bison, people always ask me?
I’ve started to see ground bison and bison steaks in mainstream supermarkets. Independent butchers shops are always a great source, as are farmers’ markets. Depending on where you live, you might be able to buy directly from a rancher.
Bison is a lean, premium meat that should be cooked with care. Slow cook roasts until they’re fork tender and grill steaks to medium-rare (or medium at the most) and I guarantee you’ll fall in love.