Nothing fits into the western heritage ambience of the Calgary Stampede like a bison burger but in the hands of a skilled chef, this meat can be much more.
Cooking sessions at the Stampede held July 8-17 demonstrated unique dishes for those who want to try bison but are not sure how to prepare it.
Duncan Ly, culinary director at the Vintage Chop House restaurant in Calgary, showed easy to prepare quick and tasty tacos and flank steak.
He admits he learned to cook bison by trial and error and then figured out the best side dishes from there.
“Mushrooms go well with bison, root vegetables and generally earthy sorts of flavours,” he said.
“You always eat with your eyes first so get some beautiful baby vegetables like carrots,” he said.
The first dish he prepared was bison short rib tacos using marinated meat that was shredded like pulled pork and topped with a spicy aloli sauce.
The second was a medium rare marinated flank steak with a chimichurri sauce, a herbal paste that includes a blend of parsley, garlic, oil and other herbs.
His advice to home chefs is to learn not to overcook bison because it does not have a marbled texture and can dry out quickly.
Burgers should be cooked thoroughly but roasts, ribeyes or sirloin steaks can be medium to medium rare. Once they come out of the oven or off the grill, the meat needs to rest so it can continue cooking and the juices are retained.
Linda Sautner of the Bison Producers of Alberta said the meat is always in short supply. Alberta has about 140,000 bison cows and cannot produce enough to meet demand.
Many animals have been exported to the United States where there is also high demand and short supply of bison.
“We are doing everything we can to encourage everyone to expand. We desperately need to increase production,” she said.
Her group worked with Ly to find bison for his restaurant.
She often directs consumers to farmers market and farmers who sell directly to consumers.
Ly and Sautner agreed there is also interest in bison because people consider it a natural product and are asking for grassfed.
“It is a very common theme and people say they don’t want grainfed at all. To be honest, we have done taste tests and 99 percent of the people could not tell a bit of difference,” said Sautner.
Some producers prefer to add grain to the final finishing so the fat is white, especially if they are selling to restaurants because consumers may be put off by the amber tinge in the fat.