What do I do with … bison
When Jared Gibbs looks out his bedroom window first thing in the morning, it’s almost “Home on the Range” come to life.
Gibbs lives with his son, Shawn, 10, on his parents’ Lone Star Lake Bison Ranch, where the Gibbs family — headed by Don and Terri — has been raising the majestic beast of the great plains since starting with a bull and cow, Rhett and Scarlett, 20 years ago.
“I wake up and sit down, and all of a sudden they run by the window,” he says of the family’s herd of about 20 bison. “My window’s on the far corner over there, and so I can see them, every time they walk by, I can hear them. You know, that’s kind of cool. They’re 10 feet, 20 feet from my window, walking by.”
Near extinction 100 years ago, bison now have a healthy population — numbering close to 200,000 on private ranches and farms in the United States in 2007, according to the National Bison Association.
They have a healthy reputation, too, literally: The meat is low in fat but high in protein and iron, making it a good alternative for beef lovers worried about too much fat. According to the National Bison Association, 3.5 ounces of bison meat has half the calories and 16 fewer grams of fat than USDA “choice” beef.
“To me, this is very descriptive, and it’s not actually my words, but, I have a lot of people say, ‘It tastes like what beef used to taste like,'” Terri Gibbs says. “In that it’s clean, it just has the great natural flavor to it. It’s not gamey at all.”
It’s also a healthy choice for people worried about the hormones and antibiotics used in commercially produced beef, says Hilary Brown, owner of Local Burger, 714 Vt., which sells bison burgers and cuts of meat.
“One nice thing to know about bison meat is that they never get hormones, and most producers either do not use antibiotics or use very little antibiotic because they eat primarily grass, the diet that is intended for them,” Brown says. “There is a great deal of local bison meat that is raised in a way that produces a very nutritious product … a great balance of fats — higher in omega-3s than conventionally raised meats — and amino acids.”
Big, ‘exotic’ business
On the Gibbs farm in Overbrook, the bison don’t only roam past Jared Gibbs’ window, they roam the pasture, eating the native grasses before being called in by Jared’s father, Don, with treats of apples and pears.
The herd includes the Gibbs’ original cow, Scarlett, now called “Gimpy” because of her penchant for injury, as well as a few other named bison — Louie, the bull of the herd, and Peanut, a female bottle-raised by the family.
“Her mom didn’t take her … and so we kind of have to save her from her mom. We used to have an old barn here, and for a while we took care of her until she was big enough,” Jared Gibbs says of Peanut. “She’s still the tamest buffalo of all.”
Well, maybe not the tamest, ahem, buffalo — that honor might go to Nike, a fluffy dark brown dog who is shaved to look like one of the big fellas. As the herd comes in, Nike relaxes on the porch of the family store, looking like a very miniature version of an animal that can weigh upward of 2,000 pounds.
Back when the Gibbs bought Scarlett and Rhett, cooking bison was as rare as Nike’s haircut.
“When we first started raising buffalo and eating buffalo, it was like it was an exotic meat,” says Terri Gibbs.
It was exotic, too, for her son, who was a teen at the time.
“Most people around here had pigs or cattle or something else. When I was 15, no one had buffalo — let alone nobody had ever seen them,” says the now-29-year-old. “When people found out that we were eating buffalo, they were like, ‘Aren’t they endangered?'”
No, and they haven’t been for a while. After conservation efforts were made around 1900 to increase the bison population, which had dwindled to about 1,000 at that time from an estimated 30 to 70 million before 1600 in North America, the number of bison increased enough that commercial bison meat sales began in the 1960s.
Terri Gibbs says the ranch slaughters only as needed, maybe two to three animals a month. Slaughter-sized animals are 2-year-olds that weigh between 800 and 900 pounds. Each animal produces about 250 pounds of meat, says Gibbs, which is divided into identical cuts to beef — from T-bone to short ribs to sirloin.
As for the best cut? Brown, of Local Burger, has her favorites.
“I think the rib-eye is the best cut for a steak. I love it,” she says. “I also love to get roasts and make hash: Slow-cooking it all day with some vegetables — onion, potato, celery, carrot, bullion. Makes for an awesome fall meal and great sandwiches.”
Brown says that no matter the cut, the biggest concern with bison meat is overcooking it. Bison meat does not marble and therefore can get tough if cooked too long.
“Bison meat, as most folks know, is quite lean, especially if they have been raised on grass only and not finished on grain. When you have a lean meat it can get pretty tough when you overcook,” Brown says. “I recommend to folks to cook buffalo medium-rare to medium. Grass-fed and -finished bison, which is what most of our local producers have, has a healthy fat.”
Terri Gibbs says that once the lack of fat has been noted, cook it on low heat and slowly. Bison can be used just like beef — in roasts, stir-fries or the slow-cooker, on the grill and pan-fried, broiled or braised.
“I’m a baker, so the roasts are awesome,” Terri Gibbs says. “We do a tenderized round steak, just kind of slow in the oven or the crock pot or the electric skillet. You can either do tomatoes and onions and or green peppers and do like a Swiss steak, or you can do your gravy. It’s awesome — it’s one of our favorites.”
Tenderized Bison Round Steak
1-2 pounds round steak
Stewed or canned tomatoes
Lightly flour round steak and place in a large skillet coated with olive or Canola oil. Brown on both sides. Slice onion and green pepper and place on top of round steak. Add one can of tomatoes and sufficient water to cover met. Simmer until tender (1 to 1.5 hours).
— Recipe from Lone Star Lake Bison Ranch
Red Curry Bison Short Ribs with Baby Bok Choy
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons red curry paste (more or less to taste)
3 cloves garlic
Three 1/8-inch-thick slices peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro stems plus 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves, divided
6 scallions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons Canola oil
3 pounds bone-in bison short ribs or 2 pounds boneless, trimmed
2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice, or more to taste
3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup light coconut milk
6 baby bok choy, cut in half, or 3 regular bok choy, quartered
Ground black pepper, to taste
In a blender or food processor, combine the curry paste, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, scallions and water. Blend until they form a loose paste. Add more water if the mixture is too dense to blend. Set aside.
In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil. Add the ribs and brown on all sides, about 6 to 8 minutes total.
Stir in the red curry mixture, onion, broth, fish sauce and lime juice. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, turning the ribs every 30 minutes, until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Transfer the ribs to a plate, then cover to keep warm.
Add the tomatoes and coconut milk to the broth in the pot. Bring to a simmer. Add bok choy, then cover and cook until the thick ends of the bok choy can be easily pierced with a fork, about 10 to 20 minutes. Season with pepper and more lime juice, if desired. Serve topped with cilantro leaves.
— Recipe from the March-April 2009 issue of EatingWell magazine via The Associated Press
Greek Bison Burgers with Yogurt Sauce
1 pound ground bison
1/2 cup cooked chopped spinach, squeezed dry
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, divided
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat Greek-style plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
4 French rolls or four 4-inch pieces of baguette, split and toasted
16 thin slices English cucumber
8 slices tomato
4 thin slices red onion
Heat a grill to medium-high.
In a large bowl, gently combine the bison, spinach, feta, 2 teaspoons of the dill, oregano, cumin, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Be careful not to overmix. Form into 4 oval-shaped patties roughly the size of the rolls. Set aside.
To prepare the yogurt sauce, in a small bowl combine the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, remaining teaspoon of dill and the mint. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Oil the grill rack using an oil-soaked folded paper towel held with tongs. Grill the burgers until an instant-read thermometer inserted at the center registers 155 degrees, about 5 to 6 minutes per side.
Assemble the burgers on rolls with the yogurt sauce, cucumber, tomato and onion.
— Recipe from the March-April issue of EatingWell magazine via The Associated Press