Like many other people, I find that it is more difficult to appreciate unfamiliar red meats than other novel (to me) foods. I feel quite lucky to have been exposed to a pretty wide variety of food in general as a kid- my mother was an interested cook and both parents adventurous eaters. I am not squeamish, and happily eat many parts of the cow, sheep,and pig others scorn.
This red meat thing was brought home to me some years ago, when I surprised myself by not liking venison. Given a venison flank steak-I marinated it pretty thoroughly, grilled it, and sliced it thinly against the grain. My husband and not-yet-vegetarian child scarfed it up. I tried to like it-it was tender and juicy, and I swear I could even tell that the flavor was good, but my stomach said "No, we aren't going to be eating that. It is meat and it is weird. Why don't we just have some more of that wild rice, missy?"
I was therefore surprised, and pleased to discover that my stomach and I love buffalo meat. Probably this is because it is so very like beef. Similar, but IMHO, better. I have heard it described (I forget where) as like beef, but cleaner and sort of sweeter tasing, and that's about right. It has not been widely available in my immediate vicinity. I live in a provincial city-it is probably old hat in more cosmopolitan venues. Up until recently, there's only been ground buffalo, in packets at the Iggle.
This ground buffalo has entirely replaced beef as favorite burger material in my world. Simply the best, but there's really not a lot more to say on the topic, as far as I'm concerned. I am longing for something akin to a chuck roast, or short ribs, so I can try braising it. It is not available locally though, and ordering by mail and shipping it is very costly.
However, I was quite pleased to discover , this week, some small chunks of "Buffalo Steak" at the Iggle. I was encouraged to try Buffalo Chili. This chili is adapted from the Smithsonian Cookbook of Native American foods and recipes, Foods of the Americas, which I have out from the library at the moment. Since the authors credit Jeremiah Tower with this recipe, it seems unlikely that it is a traditional native American dish of great age. It does use companionable American ingredients, and who cares anyway; as long as it is good?
I liked the touch of bitterness imparted by the finely chopped lemons and limes, which make it unlike any other chili I have had. I certainly do not think that there is anything remotely wrong with regular old chili-which I probably, on the whole, prefer. I do not see that this different sort of preparation is particularly more suited to buffalo than it would be to beef or pork. In fact, if I had it to do over again, I'd have made a more usual sort of chili, to see if it was notably different with buffalo. You have probably already had buffalo a million times. If you haven't, though, I would suggest a simply seasoned grilled burger or steak to start with, so you can see what you think of its very own, untweaked taste.
cayenne a pinch
paprika 1/2 tsp
poblano. ground 1 1/2 tbsp or other relatively mild chili
bay leaf 1
ground cumin 1 tbsp
dried oregano 2 tsps
oil 2 tbsps
buffalo 2 lb ground, plus 1 lb cut in teeny cubes
bacon snipped into squares 2 slices
onion, minced 1 small
garlic 8 cloves, minced
lemon, with rind, seeded and minced tiny as you can 1/4 lemon
lime, treated as above 1/4 lime
stock 3 cups
masa harina 3 tbsps, or a white corn tortilla, crumbled, or substitute finely ground cornmeal
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients through and including oregano in a small cast iron skillet. Toast for 3-5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, being careful not to let it burn. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, and brown the buffalo slowly, and thoroughly, for 10 minutes or more. Add bacon, onion and garlic, and continue to cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add toasted spices, lemon and lime, and cook 5 more minutes. Keep stirring; you must watch it to make sure it doesn't burn. Add 2 cups of stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer. Cover and cook on low heat 40 minutes or so. Whisk masa harina into remaining cup of stock, and then whisk that thoroughly into chili. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 40 more minutes. Serve warm,with corn bread, tortillas or with some corn dumplings.
Chopped cilantro is very nice on top.
Some people like dumplings, others complain they are stodgy. I like the occasional tasty bit of stodge myself, now and again,especially floating in rich gravy. It never occured to me to try dumplings in chili, but these seem to suit. As the weather warms up, they may become a less appealing addition. If you are going to make the corn dumplings, you drop them, by scant tablespoons, into the chili, 40 minutes before it is done, and keep the lid on without peeking until the very end. If you are going to make the dumplings, you probably don't need the masa harina, as they have a sort of thickening effect on the gravy.
2 ears of fresh corn, scraped off the cob, or 2 cups frozen white corn, defrosted
all purpose flour, unbleached 1 cup
cornmeal 1 tbsp
baking powder 2 tsps
salt 1 1/4 tsp
unsalted room temperature butter 1/4 cup
milk 1 or 2 tbsps
Mash corn kernels thoroughly with a fork, or better yet, a potato masher. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in butter. Add corn and mix. Add enough milk to make a stiff batter. Proceed as above.
I am still hoping to be able to try a braising cut of buffalo sometime soon.
Roaming buffalo query: When the song says "and the skies were not cloudy all day", do you suppose it means that all day long, it was sunny, or that the cloudiness didn't last the entire day? When I was a kid, this was something I wondered about. I felt it should have been made clear. I expect I was sometimes a nuisance.
Recipes adapted from: Fernando and Marlene Divina in Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions, who in turn adapted it from Jeremiah Tower