Food and Recipes

Culture through Cuisine: Bison

Culture through Cuisine: Bison

People are eating healthier these days, and with the variety of options in grocery stores, it's not hard to make good selections.

If you're looking for an alternative to beef, you might want to try bison.

Millions of bison roamed North America for hundreds of years, but they almost became extinct.

Willliam Woys Weaver has a PhD in food ethnography and said European colonists nearly wiped them out in the 1800s.

"Once the railroad went through, people could shoot them very easy from the trains, but there was also a government policy in place to get rid of the bison, because if they got rid of the bison, they undercut the culture of the plains Indians, and this would break them financially and culturally, which is what the government wanted to do in those days," Weaver said.

Now, the creatures are flourishing and have become the first national mammal of the United States.

Farmers like Rod Wieder let them graze in Springfield Township, Bucks County, just like they do in the wild out west.

"This amazing national treasure that we still have that we are lucky we have," said Wieder, whose farm has about 45 bison that roam more than 25 acres of land.

Weider said if people buy bison meat and support farmers, it helps with population and ensures the animals will be as natural as possible in the future.

"You have to eat them to save them," Wieder said. "In the 70s, there was only 30,000 of them, and now there is around a half a million, and that's all because of the meat business."

North America's first lean red meat has made a comeback in recent years.

"We even do a bacon. We make out of the brisket," Wieder said.

From farmers to the football field, bison is gaining attention.

Fred Duerr, the executive chef of Rising Sun Inn, said more people are ordering bison at the restaurant thanks to the new Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.

"Carson Wentz has been making it more popular because he is from the Dakotas," he said.

There are other reasons people are choosing it over beef. Weider said it's not bred for specific traits and doesn't need antibiotics.

He said bison is better for you because it has more iron and virtually no fat, which means it's higher in nutrients, and people like the flavor better than beef.

"A little sweeter than beef, it's not wild or gamey," Wieder said.

"Bison tastes like beef wants to taste," said Duerr, who makes a filet by simply pan-frying the meat in clarified butter. "Just like that. Pan-fry them for two or three minutes on each side and it would be a nice rare, medium-rare."

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