Buffalo, The Heart-Smart Red Meat|
by Carol Anderson
Once considered an endangered species, the American buffalo has made a comeback and again roams our country -- albeit on ranches and preserves. Because of this comeback and in response to consumer demand for healthier meats, buffalo products are now available to consumers across the country at specialty meat counters and on the Internet.
Biologically and officially -- according to the National Bison Association -- the familiar shaggy, cloven-hoofed creatures are members of the buffalo family (like water buffalo and cape buffalo), but should be referred to specifically as bison. Many ranchers and suppliers refer to them as bison, but pretty much everyone else calls them buffalo.
Whatever you call it, buffalo meat is low in fat and calories and high in protein and nutrients, features which attract health-conscious and adventurous cooks. Johnny Gabaldon, Executive Chef at Prairie Star, says that buffalo meat these days is of such high quality that he considers it comparable to beef in taste, texture and tenderness. Local buffalo ranchers Monte and Lana Fastnacht (of LaMont's Wild West Buffalo) boast that the meat's great taste is due to the fact that buffalo spend their days grazing on lush prairie lands and are not subjected to questionable drugs, chemicals or hormones.
While the price of buffalo meat is higher than that of beef, nutrition-wise it is well worth it. Because there is very little fat marbling in the meat, when you buy a pound of buffalo you end up with a pound of buffalo after cooking. You can expect to pay around $5 to $7 per pound for ground buffalo, $7 to $10 per pound for roasts and slightly more for steaks.
Chef Gabaldon suggests substituting an equivalent cut of buffalo in place of beef in any recipe. It is suitable for roasting, grilling, sautéing and broiling. If you want someone else to cook buffalo for you, head to Bosque Bull (1127 Alameda NW, 898-2855) or Burger Boy (on North 14 in Cedar Crest, 281-3949) for buffalo burgers. Or check out the buffalo offerings in Santa Fe at the Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington, 988-3030) and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (319 South Guadalupe, 982-2565) in Santa Fe. For those of you who would like to try it at home, Chef Gabaldon has been kind enough to share with us one of his favorite recipes.
Bison is very rich meat with full flavor that lends itself well to grilling. His favorite cut is the rib-eye steak. Because it is lean he suggests cooking the meat no more than medium rare.
Red Wine Marinade
Combine remaining ingredients well.
Place bison steaks into a shallow baking dish with marinade poured over. Allow to sit for two hours and rotate the steaks face down in marinade. Continue to marinate for two hours more.
Grill steaks over a mesquite wood for best flavor and cook no more than medium-rare. Serve with Chimichurri sauce.
Most buffalo meat is sold frozen. Well-wrapped steaks and roasts can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days, ground buffalo no more than two days. For freezer storage, buffalo should be wrapped and sealed tightly in moisture/vapor-proof material such as freezer paper, aluminum foil and polyethylene films. You can store ground buffalo and cooked buffalo as long as three months; other buffalo cuts up to 12 months.
In Albuquerque you can buy buffalo meat at Keller's Farm Stores, Wild Oats Markets and La Montañita Co-op. In Santa Fe it is available at the Natural Foods Store in Bosque Farms and at Connie's Market. You can order from LaMont's by calling (505) 869-4438, or through their Web site (www.lamontbuffalo.com).
Carol Anderson is a buffalo lover and editor of the United States Personal Chef Association Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.