Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Day 58 - Eating Bison

I have never tried bison meat. This is one of the things on my "I have never..." list that I have wanted to do for some time but never acted on when I was presented the opportunity. For whatever reason, I have consistently passed on the few chances I have had to try bison over the years, and I never sought the meat out in my experiences with food. This has been the case despite the fact I have heard great things about bison meat and I have maintained a periodic curiosity about it for at least the last 15 years. As a result, I decided trying bison for the first time was a necessity during my "I have never..." year. In fact, I obtained a pound of frozen bison meat the day before my 30th birthday, and I have been holding onto it until the perfect opportunity to prepare it came my way. Luckily, a break in today's rainy weather provided an ideal grilling environment that just happened fall on a Tasty Tuesday in my "I have never..." journey. In turn, after getting home from work today I gathered some ingredients and set to work preparing a meal that would provide my first experience eating bison meat.


Prep work!
After some consideration this evening, I determined I would use the ground bison meet I had to make bison burgers. After all, the process seemed straightforward enough, and I had plenty of experience grilling beef and turkey burgers in the past. With the main course determined, I narrowed down some choices for side dishes. Although I did not know what bison meat tasted like, I figured potatoes, red peppers, and mushrooms would serve as a suitable complement to the meal. Following my decision, I explained my plan to Rachael, who promptly offered to lend a hand in preparation. With Rachael preparing vegetable foil packs, I headed out to the backyard to light the grill. Several minutes later, our meal preparation was complete with the exception of the bison meat. Before diving into the meat preparation, I grabbed the foil packs and placed them on the rapidly warming grill. Standing over the grill, I thought about the bison preparation momentarily. Realizing I had no experience cooking bison in the past, I knew I was heading into the experience blind. Regardless, I knew I had throw the bison on the grill if I was to gain the experience. “Well, let’s give it a shot,” I said to myself as I closed the grill cover and turned toward the house.

Here goes nothing...
Returning to the kitchen from the backyard, I immediately began working on the bison meat to get it ready for the grill. Although I had no direct insight regarding the appropriate preparation of the meat, I received a few tips from a co-worker earlier in the day. As a result, I first placed the meat in a bowl and proceeded to crack an egg over the bison to act as a binding agent for the burger patties. On a whim, I also decided I would pepper and season the meat before grilling. With the egg, pepper, and seasoning on the meat, I plunged my hands into the meat and started working it over in the bowl. As I mixed the ingredients together I took note of the light texture of the bison and the meat’s tendency to break into small pieces. The necessity of the egg became apparent as I watched the meat become more adhesive with each turn in the bowl. I continued working the bison over in the bowl until the mixture was consistent. Once finished, I looked over the meat one last time before starting to form the burger patties. After a few minutes I had three equally sized burger patties resting on a plate, ready for the grill. My task complete, I gave each patty a little more seasoning before heading back out to the grill to check on the foil packs cooking on the grill.

Mixing in the egg

A quick check on the foil packs indicated they had some time left to cook before I could throw the bison burgers on the grill. As a result, I went back inside and did some brief updates on yesterday’s “I have never...” experience to occupy the time until the foil packs were done. The time passed quickly as I worked through photos and hammered away at my keyboard, eventually catching me off guard with its quickened procession as I worked. Realizing some 20 minutes had passed since I last checked on the foil packs, I leapt from my position on the couch and rushed outside. Grilling tools in hand, I hurried to the grill and threw open the cover. Panicked, I moved quickly to check on the contents of the foil packs. With a quick tear of the foil a puff of steam rolled skyward. To my relief the contents of the pack appeared to be cooked to perfection, signaling me to remove the packs from the grill. With the vegetables cooked, I immediately prepped to start grilling the bison burgers. After running back inside to grab the plate containing the patties, I was ready to grill my first bison burgers.

Patties!
With heat pouring from the grill, I slowly set each of the three bison patties on the cast iron surface nearest the hot center of the charcoals. The meat sizzled on contact and rapidly began browning toward its center. The speed with which the bison cooked was unexpected, which spurred me into action just minutes after placing the bison on the grill. I quickly grabbed my grilling tools and readied myself to flip the burgers at what I thought to be the appropriate moment. With the patties now showing an even transition from brown to pink, I decided to make the flip. I moved carefully to ensure the bison did not get stuck to the grill as I flipped each patty, exposing a beautifully grilled light brown surface. I repeated the same approach for the other side of the bison burgers, keeping a close eye on the color of the patties until I felt they had cooked through. Given the surprising speed at which the bison cooked, I decided to give the meat a quick check with a thermometer before removing the burgers from the grill. With the meat reading at exactly 145 degrees, I pulled the burgers from the grill and set them on the plate holding the foil packs. With the food cooked, there was only one thing left to do; eat bison for the first time.

Flippin' like a boss
Hunger making its presence known to us, Rachael and I threw our plates together and sat down to eat in a relative hurried state. After a quick search online for the best way to eat a bison burger, we decided to top the burgers with Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce, provolone cheese, and lettuce in a whole wheat bun. We divvied up the mix of vegetables before making our way to the dining room table and diving into our meals. Sitting down before my plate, I took one last glance at my grilling work before placing the top bun on my bison burger and taking my first bite. My mouth was immediately filled with the delicious flavors of the meat, condiments, and bun. The bison was soft and light, with a taste somewhat similar to beef but altogether different. The flavor was rich and slightly sweet, but it didn't maintain the heaviness of beef. With barbeque sauce rolling down my fingers, I set my burger down on my plate and leaned back in my chair. I immediately let out a highly audible, almost involuntary noise of satisfaction in response to my first taste of bison. Without hesitation, I picked the burger back up and took a second bite. The same sensations hit my palette a second time, sending me into a state of food bliss. In that moment it was decided, bison was my new favorite for food on the grill.

Ready for consumption...

The impressive flavor of the bison made it easy to top off the rest of my meal. In fact, I had to restrain myself from trying to take down another bison burger after the first had proven so delightfully delicious. Given my response to my first experience with bison, I don’t know why I waited so long to try it. That stated, now that I have tried bison it will become a grilling staple at my house. Based on this conclusion, it is obvious today’s “I have never…” experience was a good one. When I started this journey I was hopeful I would encounter experiences that would expose me to new interests and help me discover unknown inclinations. Today bison meat helped me fulfill a part of that objective in the category of food. From that, I can simply say it’s moments like this that make me glad I decided to take make this whole “I have never…” idea a reality… I just wonder what else I have yet to uncover.

Un-freaking-believable.

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