Sunday Supper with Braised Bison Menu

Cheryl’s story about bison as an alternative to beef inspired the braised entree that’s at the center of this menu for four. Start the bison cooking about 2-1/2 hours before you’re ready to eat and you’ll have plenty of time to pull together the other elements of this menu.

To start:

Begin with a salad made with seasonal ingredients like bitter greens, apples, beets, citrus and other winter fare. Lia has great ideas to improvise with what you find at the market. But if you want a recipe, she offers up a tasty Fennel and Granny Smith Salad with Blue Cheese.

Main event:

I used bison stew meat in this Buffalo Carbonnade for our riff on a Belgian classic that calls for braising the meat in hearty dark ale. The result is a comforting, fork-tender dish that I love served over Celery Root, Potato and Apple Mash. If you want to keep things really easy, simply serve the meat over egg noodles. And, of course, pour a glass of that lovely ale to sip with it. You’ll have some leftovers, which will make wonderful midweek lunches (warm up a container of this in the office microwave and your co-workers will be envious!).

Sweet finish:

A warm, winter meal like this calls for a warm dessert. Try our Chai-Spiced Amaranth Pudding. The recipe calls for serving the pudding chilled, but I can tell you it’s just good–even better with this menu–warm.

Bon appetit!

Considering Bison, the Other Red Meat

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly when I started reducing my red meat consumption, but I know it happened sometime between the 1970s and yesterday. A lifelong meat eater, I simply realized that I’d been choosing red meat almost as a default, but when I stopped to think about it, my enthusiasm for cooking, eating and serving vegetables, fruits, whole grains, leaner meats and fish outpaced my desire for red meat.

I still eat red meat, for sure, but far less of it, and I purchase it much more thoughtfully. This has led me to grass-fed bison, a red meat source touted for its nutritional, environmental and historical distinctiveness.

Research into bison invariably leads to some confusion over naming conventions: Some ranchers refer to their animals as bison and their meat as buffalo. Others do the reverse.  “The terminology on the Native American reservations next to us is ‘bison’ on the hoof, ‘buffalo’ on the plate,” says Jill Maguire of Wild Idea Buffalo Co. in South Dakota. Many retailers and consumers use the two terms interchangeably.

Exploitation and conservation

Up to 60 million bison once thrived in the Great Plains. By the late 19th century, however, Europeans and Americans had so exploited the species that their numbers dropped precipitously, and by the 1890s, there were only hundreds left. Conservationist and governmental efforts to save the animals then kicked in, and by the early 20th century, the numbers began to recover, albeit slowly.

Environmental advantage

With a species’ very survival in question, an argument to save the animals by raising them for food may seem counterintuitive. But Maguire offers a convincing explanation for how grass-fed cultivation can help: “Our lands are constantly under threat from the plow to plant corn and soybeans as food for cows, and for buffalo. But they’re not supposed to eat corn; they’re supposed to eat grass, and when you start eliminating their habitat, they become crowded out.”

If not for the grass-fed bison industry, the theory goes, more of the heartland would be turned over to subsidized crop production – crops that, in turn, would be used to support industrial feedlots.

If not for the grass-fed bison industry, the theory goes, more of the heartland would be turned over to subsidized crop production – crops that, in turn, would be used to support industrial feedlots. (The vast majority of the nation’s cattle and buffalo are raised in the feedlot model, Maguire says.) When ranchers instead use this land to graze wild buffalo, they produce a meat source that’s more sustainable and environmentally sound than the industrially produced alternatives. (Wild Idea also slaughters its buffalo in the field and has earned an American Humane Association certification. Because the animals suffer less trauma and release fewer stress hormones when field harvested, the theory goes, their meat tastes sweeter.)

Nutritional benefits

Nutritionally speaking, grass-fed bison has a bit of edge over beef. Grass-fed ground bison has roughly 25 percent fewer calories and half the saturated fat of grass-fed ground beef.

Grass-fed meats, whether beef or buffalo, are also good sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, thanks to the natural composition of the wild grasses on which they graze. Keep in mind that, like beef, bison can be either grass-fed, grass-fed and grain-finished, or grain-fed. Depending where you shop, you’re more likely to come across industrially raised, grain-fed buffalo. If you want the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed bison, be sure to verify how the meat was raised before you pull out your wallet.

In general, you’ll probably pay about the same, or slightly more, for bison than for beef, though it’s not always a straight comparison. Some markets, like Whole Foods in Northern California, sell grass-fed beef, while their buffalo is grass-fed but grain-finished. Prices are roughly comparable, though many more beef cuts are available.

Smart Cooking Tips

Chef Forrest Waldo of Colorado-based High Plains Bison offers the following tips on bison cookery:

  1. Due to its leanness and relative lack of intramuscular fat, bison steaks and roasts require “one-third less heat and one-third less cook-time” than beef. In braises and stews, cook time may be more comparable.
  2. For best results, serve bison medium or medium-rare, rather than well done.
  3. As with other large cuts of meat, always let bison rest before slicing.  This will ensure that the juices properly redistribute throughout the meat so it’s moist, tender and delicious.

Feel free to swap bison for beef in your favorite recipes, whether burgers, chili, burritos, stews or steaks. As demand increases, more cuts are likely to become available, but for now, you may be able to find ground bison, New York steaks, tri-tips, bottom rounds, top rounds, sirloins, stew meat and more, depending on your location and the size of your market.  If you don’t see what you want, ask for it.

Buffalo Carbonnade
Buffalo Blue Burgers with Celery Slaw

Cheryl Sternman Rule is a food and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, including EatingWell and Body+Soul. She is the voice behind the food blog 5 Second Rule.

Buffalo (Bison) Carbonnade

Carbonnade is the Belgian version of French boeuf bourguignonne, only the meat is braised in dark ale instead of red wine. Chimay — a Belgian ale made by Trappist monks — is traditional in this dish. But you can experiment with other types of ale or even stout (a commenter below asks about using Guinness, which is ideal, and I’ve even used chocolate stout with nice results). Our interpretation uses bison (buffalo) stew meat, which you can find online and in many health-food stores. Ounce, for ounce, it has about 20% fewer calories and half the fat of beef. Grass-fed beef stew meat also works well here. Serve over egg noodles or our Celery Root, Potato and Apple Mash.

buffalo-bison-carbonnade2-3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1-1/2 pounds bison (buffalo) stew meat, cut into 1-1/2 cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, thinly vertically sliced
2 cups dark ale (such as Chimay Bleu)*
1 cup beef stock
1-1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon oil. Pat meat dry with a paper towel, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow bowl and dredge meat in flour, shaking off excess. Add meat to pan and cook 4-5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. (Brown the meat in batches, using extra oil as needed, so you don’t overcrowd the pan.) Remove meat from pan.

Swirl another tablespoon of oil into the pan. Add onion and saute 5 minutes or until tender. Add ale to pan and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Cook 2 minutes or until until ale is reduced by half. Return beef to pan. Add stock. Stir in sugar. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven for 2 hours and 15 minutes or until meat is fork-tender. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 6

*Belgian ales like Chimay typically come in large, 750-ml bottles. If you substitute a dark ale sold in standard 12-ounce bottles, just use 1 bottle in this recipe and increase the stock to 1-1/2 cups.

Celebrate Labor Day with Our Make-Ahead Menu!

Fall may not begin until Sept. 22, but Labor Day, which falls on Monday, marks the official end of summer. Heck, lots of kids have already begun their school year, and the rest will head back to the classroom on Tuesday. Celebrate the end of the season with our easy Labor Day Menu. It boasts lots of fresh, end-of-season flavor, and it’s good for you too.


To sip: Watermelon-Basil Agua Fresca
Nothing says “summer” like watermelon, which is the base for this not-too-sweet Mexican refresher. Add a splash of tequila for the adults–we won’t tell!
Make-ahead tip: Cube the watermelon up to a day in advance, but wait until just before the guests arrive to blend it with the rest of the ingredients so the flavors stay nice and bright.

To snack: Guatemalan Guacamole
Our guacamole, which pairs buttery avocados with red onion, crunchy jicama and hot chiles, is the perfect match for the agua fresca. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.
Make-ahead tip: Chop the egg, onion, chiles and oregano a day ahead, and then combine with the rest of the ingredients when you’re ready to serve.

To start: BLT Bread Salad with Creamy Buttermilk Dressing
This salad combines the elements of the classic BLT sandwich with a luscious dressing.
Make-ahead tip: Combine the dressing ingredients and refrigerate; toast bread.

The main attraction: Buffalo Blue Burgers with Celery Slaw
Grass-fed ground buffalo is a lean, eco-friendly alternative to beef. Paired with creamy blue cheese sauce and a crunchy celery slaw, these burgers will be a crowd-pleaser.
Make-ahead tip: A day ahead, form the patties and refrigerate. Prep the hot sauce, blue cheese sauce and slaw; chill.

On the side: Corn and Quinoa Pasta Salad
This riff on traditional American picnic fare is a whole-grain bonanza, thanks to the quinoa, whole-grain pasta and fresh corn.
Make-ahead tip: Cook the quinoa and pasta the day before; combine with the remaining  ingredients on party day.

Don’t forget dessert: No-Bake Peanut Butter Popcorn Treats and Mexican Chocolate Brownies
Hey, it’s a celebration, so serve two desserts! The popcorn treats are a crunchy, salty-sweet indulgence. The brownies have the complex flavors of Mexican chocolate (cinnamon, a touch of chile).
Make-ahead tip: Prepare both up to 2 days ahead and store in airtight containers. But we’re not responsible if they “disappear” before the party!

Old World Meats Make a Comeback as a Sustainable Choice

By Jacqueline Church

Are bunnies the new chickens? Is bison the new beef? Will goat nudge lamb off the menu? While bison, goat, and rabbit aren’t new, per se, they are garnering fresh interest among chefs and home cooks (and media) eager for sustainable options.

new-meats-postDemand for bison and goat is on the rise nationally, says Becky Faudree, Whole Foods’ global meat purchasing team leader. “Bison is one of our strongest-growing categories. We recently began carrying goat, and currently it is only offered in a few regions. Even with the small amount offered, we have seen an increase in sales. We anticipate the bison and goat categories will continue to grow.” Whole Foods may not sell rabbit yet, but other gourmet butchers do. Here’s what you need to know about these chic meats.


Sustainability story: Because bison are entirely prairie-grazed, they cause less damage to the environment than cattle raised on feedlots. In fact, bison are credited with helping to restore prairies. If you choose a producer like Wild Idea Buffalo, you’ll also know that they are never given antibiotics, growth hormones, or steroids. Wild Idea Buffalo are also slaughtered humanely in the field under South Dakota state inspection.

Taste: similar to beef.

Health benefits: Ground bison has about 25% fewer calories and half the saturated fat of grass-fed ground beef.

Best use: Use it in any recipe that calls for beef; our Buffalo Blue Burgers are a tasty introduction. Take care not to overcook lean bison.

Where to find it: most supermarkets, online, and even big-box stores.


Sustainability story: Goats forage for their food and require little land and water, making them a more environmentally sound choice than conventionally raised beef, lamb, or even chicken. In Muslim communities, where goat is a popular meat, it must be raised and slaughtered humanely, according to Islamic law. This satisfies growing consumer demand for humanely treated animals.

Taste: Young goat (kid, less than 6 months old) tastes like mild lamb.

Health benefits: 4 ounces of goat has 122 calories and 3 grams of fat (1 gram saturated). A similar portion of lamb has 256 calories and 19 grams of fat (9 grams saturated).

Best use: Goat can be cooked, for the most part, very much like lamb. Shanks may be braised; steaks sautéed or grilled; and more sinewy cuts stewed. Remember, though, that goat is very lean, so take care not to overcook.

Where to find it: Goat is new to mainstream American shoppers, but it accounts for more than 60% of the red meat eaten worldwide. Look for it at some Whole Foods stores in the Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, and South; in Latin, Caribbean, and some Asian markets; and at halal butchers that cater to Middle Eastern and North African communities. Goat is turning up at farmers’ markets, too. It may be labeled chevron, cabrito, or capretto.


Sustainability story: Rabbits can be bred four to seven times per year. “They have a high meat-to-bone ratio, and they require little in terms of resources,” says Jennifer Hashley, co-owner of Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds in Lincoln, MA (which raises rabbits as well as chickens) and director of Tufts Friedman School’s New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. Bunnies’ feed typically includes fast-growing, sustainable alfalfa in addition to foraged fare, says Hashley.

Taste: like chicken.

Health benefits: Rabbit has as much protein as chicken, but about 35% fewer calories and less than half the total and saturated fat.

Best use: Rabbit has long been a staple of French, Italian, and Spanish cuisines. It can be used much the way you would use chicken pieces–braising the legs works especially well. It’s also nice marinated and grilled.

Where to find it: At farmers’ markets and gourmet butchers (you may need to call ahead to order it).

jackie-thumbJacqueline Church is an independent writer whose work has appeared in Culture: the Word on Cheese, Edible Santa Barbara, and John Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet. She often writes about gourmet food, sustainability issues and the intersection of the two on her blog Leather District Gourmet. Currently, she’s at work on Pig Tales: a Love Story about heritage breed pigs and the farmers and chefs bringing them from farm to table.

Buffalo Blue Burgers with Celery Slaw

The inspiration for these buffalo burgers is somewhat obvious — the combo of hot sauce, blue cheese and celery is a buffalo wings classic — but the tie to sustainability and healthy ecosystems might not be as clear. I was turned into a buffalo (bison) lover by Dan O’Brien, of Wild Idea Buffalo, who talked about bringing back bison in order to save his beloved South Dakota plains. The two, it seems, are healthiest when living together … a perfect illustration of a thriving ecosystem. These flavorful burgers will be a hit at any summer barbecue.