Bison. It’s North America’s original red meat and the subject of Jennifer Bain’s second cookbook (her first, The Toronto Star Cookbook, won a Taste Canada Award in 2014). Bain is the food editor for The Toronto Star but also a part-time bison rancher (her husband raises bison at MacKenzie Ranching Co. in Foremost, Alberta) who wonders whether she should move “to the ranch for good” or perhaps simply teach the world how to cook bison to which I would respond “Absolutely!” Her book is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about bison, and includes over 100 recipes.
Over the course of a maternity leave in 2008-09, Bain moved back to Alberta to play housewife/ bison cook to her rancher husband and learned about ethical carnivorism (“meeting what you eat, caring enough to know how an animal is raised and being respectful enough to eat every available part”) leading to her self-declared mission to try to convince North Americans to love bison as much as she does!
So, the big question is – are they buffalo or are they bison? Bain uses both in the title of the book. Buffalo is the romantic name, but bison (shortened from its species name Bison bison) is the correct name. The Canadian Bison Association encourages the use of the term bison, however, many ranchers still call the animals buffalo. Whatever you call it, the animal has a storied history. There used to be 60 million of them across North America but over the years, they were hunted for their meat, fur and bones to the point where by 1900 there were just 1000 remaining. Over the course of that century, the bison population increased as ranchers and conservationists stepped in, keeping herds privately but also in national parks. Nowadays, the US boasts over 230 000 bison in private, public and tribal herds, whilst Canada counts over 125 000 bison.
The heritage meat is definitely gaining in popularity – it’s a lean meat with less fat and fewer calories than other red meats and contains more protein and iron. Bain describes the taste not as “gamey” as many people might think but as “intensely meaty”. Her cookbook is designed to teach people to cook it properly –as she says “when people pay a premium for anything […] it’s crucial that they handle it properly.”
The chapters are divided (smartly!) according to the different cuts of meat: Ground (meatballs and burgers and beyond), Steaks, Roasts, Ribs/ Shanks, Sausages and Odd Bits (this goes back to “ethical carnivorism” where you respect the animal enough to eat every available part). Each chapter also includes Stories and/ or Sidebars that entertain and inform without detracting from the star of the show – the recipes.
The introduction contains useful information for those new to working with bison meat including How to Cook, Where to Buy (with online resources listed) and How to Use the Recipes with bison meat.
At the beginning of each chapter, Bain includes a quick primer for how to cook the particular cut of meat and each chapter is punctuated with anecdotes and stories introducing us to bison ranchers from all over the United States and Canada who share their adventures in raising herds.
What’s striking about the recipes is that the majority of them are really short. The headnotes are informative, often giving shoutouts to ranchers, butchers or chefs who have inspired the recipe in some way. The recipes all look so “do-able” – making what might be an unfamiliar meat accessible for everyone.
You’ll notice from the recipe titles that there is an element of familiarity in many of them – which makes cooking bison a little less intimidating for those of us who are new to this unique meat:
Thai Red Curry Bison Ribs, Bison Sausage and Sweet Potato Frittata, Bison Pot Roast with Chipotle-Tomato Sauce, Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts’ Bison Hash, Cast Iron Bison Steak with Caramelized Onions, Spicy Sichuan Bison + Tofu Stir Fry, Diva Q’s Bold Bison Taco Salad, Red Lentil Soup with Mini Bison Meatballs, Bison Balls with Chipotle and Cilantro and Mustard Smashed Bison Cheeseburgers + Saucy Onions.
The recipes in this made me actively search out bison meat (available in my local supermarket!) so I could test some of these dishes. It’s easy to substitute bison meat into a stew and meatballs. I love that the recipes are dishes that you are familiar with just with a “meatier” taste!
This book makes for a fascinating read – it’s a cookbook you will have a hard time putting down. Parts of it read like an adventure story, parts of it like a history book. The recipes are more than just recipes – they are tributes to a majestic animal that deserves more “air time” in the kitchens of Canada. The photography by Ryan Szulc is stunning and is a big factor in encouraging readers to try this meat out for themselves. Bain has done herself and her herd proud in producing this guide to all things bison. Curious? I highly encourage you to check this book out!
Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison – a giveaway!
Thanks to TouchWood Editions we have one copy of Buffalo Girl Cooks Bison to give away to a Canadian reader!
To enter, simply leave a comment telling us what your favourite recipe using red meat recipe is!
For a second entry, tweet the following message:
I entered to win a copy of @thesaucylady #buffalogirlcooksbison from @RecipeGeekMag + @TouchWoodEd ! Details: http://ow.ly/MBzj2
Then come back to let us know you did in a second comment!
Contest closes Monday June 1st, 2015
Winner will be chosen by random.org and announced via email or twitter on June 1st, 2015
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and the author of eat. live. travel. write - a blog focusing on culinary adventures near and far. She has lived and worked as a teacher in Australia, Hong Kong, England, France and now calls Toronto home. She spends nearly every summer in France, honing her cooking and baking skills and touring different wine producing regions. As part of her job, she runs a cooking class twice a week for 7-13 year-old boys, Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. She was one of the founding members of Food Bloggers of Canada, and is a cook, baker, traveller, photographer, writer, Food Revolution Day Ambassador for Toronto, contributor to JamieOliver.Com and in her spare time teaches cooking and baking classes around Toronto.
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Photos and recipes reprinted with the permission of the publisher, TouchWood Editions.