“B” is for bison or buffalo—the newly designated national mammal. They were nearly exterminated in the late 1800s in a failed effort to control Native Americans of the Plains and make room for settlers and their beef cattle.
Some 50 million roamed from Canada to northern Mexico, across the Plains and to the forests of the East, around what is now Buffalo, New York, and beyond. By the time this slaughter was over there were barely 1,000 left. This included the two dozen in Yellowstone National Park where the animal has lived continuously since the time before recorded history. Today, there are about a half million nationwide. Some 30,000 are in private and public herds that are managed for conservation, but the Yellowstone bison remain free of cattle genes.
I was amazed to learn that the bison of the Great Plains can run as fast as 35 miles per hour even though some weigh almost a ton. Some stand as tall as six and a half feet and are almost 12 feet long. And, they are not as docile as you might think. With all the wild animal species in the national park, like grizzlies, wolves, and elk for example, bison have injured more people than any other animals in the park.
The buffalo meant everything to Native American life, from food, clothing, tools, shelter and especially the spirit as a sacred icon. I think the cattle barons and lobbyists do not want to see this grassfed, healthy red meat become number one over beef cattle. Of course, like everything else, it comes down to money.
If you have never tasted buffalo, I can tell you it tastes like the best beef you have ever had, maybe better. Buffalo roast, ribs, and tongue, are uniquely delicious, but I find many uses for ground bison. Everything from buffalo burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, chili, anything you can do with ground beef, you can do with ground bison. You can dry it, smoke it and make satays with it, too.
Buffalo Flank Steak Salad
1 10 ounce buffalo flank steak, warm
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups arugula leaves
1 bunch of watercress, lightly chopped or torn
½ can of quartered artichokes, lightly chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Cook flank steak to desired doneness, remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Slice meat into quarter-inch slices. Toss the arugula with olive oil and garlic and tear watercress and add artichokes. Plate the greens, lay the meat slices on the greens and serve right away with a crack or two of fresh black pepper.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.