We are a burger nation. It doesn't matter if you shun beef; the concept of a hot patty bookended by a bun is ingrained in our collective consciousness. The burger is who we are. It is part of the daily fabric of being an American.
We commune over charcoal fires for burgers. We scream our orders through drive-thru windows and eat them in our cars. We know how we like them, down to the nitty-gritty specifics, such as doneness, cheese, condiments and fries.
"Burgers 'R' Us."
Beef aside, the choices are all over the map in burger world.
Pescatarians, you too can have a burger from the sea, be it salmon, tuna or shrimp. Come to think of it, I think I've had a grouper burger.
Vegheads, your patty offerings aren't just crumbly and legume-based anymore; a miracle called texturized soy protein has allowed vegetarians to eat burgers that look (and nearly taste like) the meaty version. (More on that in tomorrow's blog.)
And as you might imagine, carnivores have the most choices; there's the lamb burger, turkey burger, ostrich burger, bambi burger -- and last but not least (and the subject of today's post) -- the bison burger.
Also known as buffalo, the bison, my fellow Americans, is the largest terrestrial mammal indigenous to North America. They're free roaming creatures that like to eat grass, and although mammoth, are mean and lean.
What that means at the table is a leaner piece of meat that is lower in fat and calories. According to figures from the National Bison Association Web site, a 100-gram (3.5 ounces) serving of cooked bison contains 82 mg cholesterol, 2.4 g saturated fat and 143 calories.
Although the same amount of choice beef is only slightly higher in cholesterol, at 86 mg, it is substantially higher in saturated fat (10 g) and calories (219).
But how does this leaner, lower-cal burger taste? I like it. To me, it's got a true "beefy" flavor; because it is less fatty than its cattle counterpart, a bison burger is more intense, perhaps richer in flavor. Some call it sweeter, but I don't know if I agree. What I like most of all about the bison burger is that I don't feel bloated after eating, a common complaint I have about beef burgers. The meat feels cleaner on the tongue, lighter in the belly.
Curious but tentative? Go gradually and order a bison burger off the menu at Ted's Montana Grill, the restaurant chain owned by former media mogul-turned-mega rancher Ted Turner. In addition to four locations in northern Virginia, TMG has set up shop in 17 other states east of Colorado.
If you're still game, consider buying some ground bison for home use. Locally, bison is available from the guys at Cibola Farms in Culpeper, Va. In addition to ground bison ($5.10/pound), they bring several other cuts to area farmer's markets (including Freshfarm Market at Dupont Circle and Falls Church, which are open year round).
On a larger commercial scale, ground bison (labeled sometimes as buffalo) is available at Whole Foods ($5.49/pound), which carries Carmen Creek, a brand from Canada.
Should you embark on the bison trail, keep in mind the following tidbits:
Because it's leaner than beef, bison needs some added fat and flavor zip. I like to mix in a tablespoon of olive oil, some chopped onions and whatever fresh herbs I've got on hand. A teaspoon of salt is a good standard for one pound of meat, and it likes the addition of black pepper. Play around with different flavor combinations and see what you think.
Its lean quality also impacts cooking time. Bison does not like to be overcooked; it will really taste like a hockey puck, so be careful. If panfrying during the winter, one good trick is to keep pan covered and cook over lowish heat after you've flipped the first side.
Although not a fan of adding a beaten egg to ground meat, bison likes the extra body and fat.
As seen in the photo above, I served my bison burger on a toasted English muffin rubbed with a garlic clove. I love the way an unsuspecting toaster treat supports the weight of a burger yet offers a tender tooth on the outside. Try it!
And as I mentioned earlier, veggie burgers are on the menu tomorrow.
So...ever eaten a bison burger? Share your tales in the comments area below.
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