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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Food

Bison:
It's not just for Native Americans anymore

by Brewster Hudspeth
Once known simply as "buffalo" - the "Industry" is now encouraging the use of the word bison. Based on my personal experience, one shouldn't question suggestions made by any "industry"- Just say no to Buffalo and yes to Bison and everyone will be happy.

They say the change is to distinguish the U.S. native buffalo from foreign animals like the Asian water-buffalo or the African Cape buffalo. While I, personally never saw anyone get them confused, with today's 'global economy' it may prove to be a wise move in the long run.The American buffalo is scientifically and officially in the bovine family and is therefore correctly known as bison.

The Bison Industry did suffer a blow a few years back when Bison promoters Ted Turner and Jane Fonda broke up, but there are indications that the industry will survive. The same can not be said for the state of Montana which may eventually be divided.


More good news.
This change of name also distances the industry from those regrettable "harvesting" practices of the 19th Century, which, you may remember from school, included shooting the animals formerly known as buffalo from trains or stampeding them off cliffs (wherever and whenever cliffs were available). If you happened to be a student during that era, you may also remember that the cliff story always ended with: "but the Indians didn't waste one bit of the buffalo and they even used the tails for fly swatters."


Off the nickel and onto your plate.
Learning of these wasteful practices and that the herds were depleted nearly to the point of extinction, have left generations of schoolchildren loathe to consider eating buffalo. But between selective breeding and the introduction of the hybrid "beefalo" the threat of extinction is history. Bison fritters, bison fingers, bison and dumplings and bison masala can be enjoyed without guilt. Just remember to eat everything on your plate.

Bison, for the time being, is still considered a specialty meat. But not for long. It's readily available in supermarkets in larger Texas cities and even smaller towns are now seeing it on their restaurant menus. There is even speculation that the big chicken producer in Arkansas might jump on the bandwagon and we would then have Tyson Bison.

American consumers currently eat a million pounds of bison monthly, which is still small potatoes compared to cattle. For people wanting to try bison but find themselves without a neighborhood source, there are many mail-order companies that will ship overnight.


Getting serious about bison.
The reason for bison's increase in popularity is the lower fat and higher protein. The protein content rivals that of soy products and the fat is as little as 2%. Think of it as tofu you can sink your teeth into. Ten out of ten Texas high school students chose Bison over tofu in a test conducted recently at a Texas county fair.

And speaking of hormones, Bison are free-range animals and are not given growth hormones unlike many high school students.

Furthermore, the price (of bison) is only slightly higher than beef.

Those wishing to substitute bison for beef, will find that the change is an easy one to make. Bison tends to be juicier, more tender and for those who appreciate a somewhat stronger taste, they'll find it in bison.


Important preparation consideration.
Since fat normally insulates meat during cooking, Bison's lower fat content causes the meat to cook faster and therefore the risk of overcooking always looms. For this reason it is suggested that bison be cooked at a lower temperature and (especially for grilling) that the meat be turned frequently or that the rack be moved further from the heat source. Marinades can help as well as frequent basting.

Cuts of bison are similar to beef, although bison is usually a darker red color due to the absent fat. Bison fat tends to be a butter-yellow in color - a result of being grass-fed.

Bison is excellent for stir-frying and when seared, it retains its natural juices well. Ground, it is easily substituted for beef, although it should be remembered that it cooks faster. Well-done bison is dry, so rare to medium is recommended. If the meat is seared, then the process should be very brief.


Bison and the growing availability provide the weekend traveler with a much needed option. Who knows? If we demand enough, and the price goes up, maybe Ted and Jane will get back together.


- Brewster Hudspeth
John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?" May 7, 2004 Column
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