Canadians, well I should say carnivorous Canadians, may take for granted some of our home grown foods and produce –maple syrup, wild rice and bison. Bison have
been known for inhabiting North American prairie wilderness more than anywhere else in the world.
However in less than one hundred years of rapacious culling by both settlers and natives, the bison numbers have dwindled dramatically. Near extinction, has led to farm-raising of bison on ranches in Canada and the U.S. Several years ago, on our way to Waterton National Park, Alberta, we dropped by the Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo Jump interpretative site, near Fort McLeod where the
Blackfoot Indians used to traditionally drive herds of buffalo over cliffs to their death. It was an easier way of killing bison for not just meat, but also for their hide to make clothing, shoes, floor and tepee coverings.
This is an archaeological and Unesco designated World Heritage site. The buffalo herd drive lanes, natural grazing lands and camp areas for the aboriginal communities are well-summarized here. The buffalo were an integral part of the Plains Indians’ cultural and spiritual life just like the salmon is for the Pacific Northwest coast aboriginals.
One of the bison meat vendors, told Jack that the term, buffalo, gave way to use “bison” more for marketing purposes and for the public to distinguish their revenue-generating herds from the water buffalo imported into North America.
In the past 20 years, my meat-eating habits have peetered to less than 5-6 meals per month with meat. For both budget-saving and absent-minded laziness, I do not buy meat nor prepare meat often anymore. But by no means, do I practice meat abstinence diligently. I just have smaller portions of meat now.
If price and fancy strike me, I would choose fresh seafood (any type, except for sea cucumber), chicken breast or lean pork. On the rare occasion and usually for a special event or dinner, it would be bison. Quality fresh bison is lean, meaning very little fat marbling and if cooked in a thoughtful way, a great special occasion meat entree.
Certainly Calgary major chain grocery stores and even our local organic food store, have sizable meat freezer displays of fresh and frozen bison cuts at noticeably lower prices, along with their tahini jars and tofu.
Don’t be surprised for a Calgary business lunch, there could be a choice of a bison entree. At our workplace, there was bison chili as one of the chili choices for a United Way fundraiser. Then several weeks later, I chose bison at work Christmas annual restaurant lunch at guess what –a steakhouse. Bison ubiquity in Calgary is like fresh salmon or sushi in Vancouver: it’s not gourmet any more. It’s just part of the local fare.
Here, it is bison mecca for any inspired chef to try their hand on this game meat. At home, we marinate our bison in some soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, water and fresh rosemary for several hours in the fridge. Then the bison is sautéed with some onions or smashed, minced garlic, fresh ginger root and some oil. With a salad, roasted vegetables, wild rice or sun dried tomato couscous as well as a glass of wine, it’s a tasty meal.
I have had bison in sausage shaped in Vancouver (spicy or with blueberries mixed in during sausage-making), ground bison burger (Not dynamic. I’ve always thought any ground meat diminished the original flavor of any meat. That also includes emu burgers.), bison jerky (dried bison), bison pepperoni and different bison cuts prepared in different ways.
If bison doesn’t turn your crank, then there’s always wapiti (aboriginal), or otherwise known as elk.
Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump Interpretative Centre. Alberta Canada.