Every cut of bison is tough. The sirloin? Leathery. The rib-eye? Chewy. The tenderloin? So tough it should be called the not-so-tenderloin. Part of this results from both its wildness (nondomesticated bovines like buffalo are naturally tougher than their domesticated cousins, cows) and its leanness.
Like most game meats, bison's toughness has an inverse relationship with its leanness; the less marbling an animal has, the tougher its meat. Although you can't add marbling to bison meat, you can take advantage of an underused natural tenderizer, milk.
Milk works differently than acidic marinades when it comes to tenderizing. With acidic marinades, the acid works directly on the muscle fibers, essentially "cooking" them; that's why you can safely eat dishes like ceviche after a few minutes in a citrus marinade. Milk, on the other hand, works enzymatically, and makes short work of tenderizing bison. From there, you want to go with braising – low-temperature, slow cooking in a flavorful liquid – to help achieve tenderness. With bison, you can use the same method – marinating, searing, then braising – on all cuts of steak.
Total time: 6 hours, 15 minutes | Prep time: 15 minutes| Serves: 2 to 4
- 2 8-ounce to 16-ounce bison steaks
- 1 quart milk or buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Beef stock
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Set the bison steaks in a baking dish, and cover them with milk. Marinate the steaks for 4 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350F. Drain the bison steaks and pat them dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat.
- Season the steaks to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sear the steaks until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes each side. Transfer the steaks to a roasting pan.
- Add enough stock to almost cover the steaks. Add the carrots, onions, celery and bay leaf to the pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil
- Braise the steaks for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Take the steaks out of the oven and serve. To make a pan gravy, drain the pan juices.
- Bring the pan juices to a simmer in a saucepan on the stove. Combine 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon flour in a ball, and whisk it into the simmering pan juices piece by piece.
- Simmer the gravy for 10 to 15 minutes. Season it to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
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A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.