Home Grown Chef: Buffalo

written by Thor Erickson | photo by Charlotte Dupont

I have a confession to make. For a short time in the early ’80s, I was, wait for it…a Ted Nugent fan. It wasn’t the kind of music that I typically listened to, but in the kitchen where I was working as a dishwasher, it played incessantly. After hearing the album Full Bluntal Nugenty a thousand times, it kind of stuck. One song, “Great White Buffalo,” I will never forget. It tells how, during just a few years, settlers had hunted the American buffalo (or bison) nearly to extinction. The unfortunate reason that these wild animals were hunted was not for their meat, but to clear the land for raising cattle, domesticated beef being the preferred protein.

A century and a half later, the American buffalo has made a comeback. So much so that we can find bison in our local supermarkets, usually in the form of ground meat. At many farmers’ markets, buffalo is offered in many forms. It is butchered like beef, so, all the familiar names and cuts are close, if not the same. The flavor is similar to beef, but bison is leaner, with one-third less fat. Leaner red meats can be tricky to cook. If they are cooked too long they can be tough and dry because of the lower fat content.

My favorite way to cook (and eat) bison is to grill the tenderloin, medium rare, and serve it with a sauce of foraged Oregon mushrooms. At this time of year, chanterelles are in abundance at the market, but dried morels from last spring work well, too. I sauté the chanterelles with some (fine diced) brunoise shallots until they become tender. I add a splash of white wine and some bison (or beef) stock. I let the liquid reduce to au sec  (almost dry), add some heavy cream and let the sauce reduce to nappe consistency (just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). Fine-tune the sauce with kosher salt and black pepper. The fattiness of the sauce complements the lean quality of the meat. The mushrooms add excellent flavor. I’m sure the Nuge would approve.

Seared Bison Tenderloin served with Chanterelle Cream

4, 6-ounce bison tenderloin filet mignons
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons light oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 cup fresh chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup veal stock
1/4 cup heavy cream

Dry bison steaks with a paper towel. Season with a hefty pinch of kosher salt and a smaller pinch of black pepper. Place large sauté pan or cast-iron skillet on high heat until it is extremely hot. Add oil; heat 30 seconds. Put in steaks, without letting one touch the next.

Sear on one side for 2 minutes and carefully turn them over. Sear other side for 90 seconds. Remove onto a plate.

Lower heat to medium, add shallots and mushrooms, and sauté for 1 minute.

Add wine to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape up bits stuck to the pan. Reduce wine by half, add veal stock and reduce by half. Add heavy cream and thicken until sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Spoon sauce onto plates and place filets on top. Serves 4.

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