I remember writing about a trip to Mexico while serving in the Marines. It was but a short journey of harrowing roads and fearless and seemingly senseless drivers to any given destination to the South.
As I think back on a trip to the Las Playas bull arena one day, I still can’t be sure as to whether I was more pleased to leave the event after three fights and witnessing the unprofessional and unsanitary slaughter of a couple of the victims, or to arrive at the fights alive and in one piece. This question still plagues me.
The end of the short story from years ago was that I ate a rare burger the following night knowing full well that if I did not, I would never eat a rare piece of beef again.
Reminiscent of an old and fairly bad movie, “Gross Anatomy,” where most of the med students couldn’t bring themselves to pick the roasted chicken carcasses on their tray immediately after their first anatomy class, so I envisioned myself on that fateful day.
With Lady Fortuna on my side, I stuck to my guns and have never looked back on the rare or well-done question. In fact, I still find the latter a travesty and a shameful waste of an animal that unwittingly and unwillingly gave its life for our sustenance.
So, as the pollen, that blasted pollen, was rinsed from my grill yesterday to signify the closeness of summer, I fired it up and made some bison burgers. Bison is now readily available at some of the local markets and wholesale clubs and if you have never tried it, you need to make it a priority, assuming, of course, that you are not vegetarian.
My first experience of cooking with bison was at the Key West Shipping Company in the early ’80s and, as the firebox was a mesquite-powered Southern Pride beast (no gas or electricity), the burgers were and still are some of the best I’ve ever had.
Nowadays, I will order a bag or two of mesquite logs from a broker and use them throughout the grilling season. There is nothing like the flavor and aromas of mesquite to take me back to the halcyon days of youth and more to the point to the halcyon days of middle-age.
As I think about all of the burgers that I’ve cooked over the last 28 years, I realize that bison is simply a special burger. A few years ago, I wrote an article on a bison farm for Maryland Life Magazine and I found a special connection to the beasts as the gestalt took me back decades to another time — the power of food and association I guess.
To make this burger even more special, I broke out the truffle butter that resides in my refrigerator. As I am the only one in the family who uses it, I can make a batch a year and it lasts as long.
Basting the burger and the roll with the truffle butter, the heat from the grill enriched the already robust smells of the formidable fungus and it was as though I was already eating the burger. Topping the burger off with caramelized onions and fresh hothouse tomatoes, there was no need for a sauce or spread, although a spicy aioli might have done it wonders.
Just as that fabled rare burger in 1990 was certainly special, so are bison burgers. They both remind me of a simpler time. With any luck, bison will stay what it is and continue to take me back all of those years, but at least I know that for now, this burger will do just fine.
Truffled Bison Burger
6 oz. ground bison meat
Caramelized onions (recipe follows)
Fresh bacon slices, baked
Fresh Kaiser Roll
Truffle butter (recipe follows)
Grill burger, basting with truffle butter, to temperature of your liking and top with cheese
Take the roll and spread liberally with truffle butter
Grill the roll but be careful to not burn it. This can happen very easily so keep a close eye on it
Build your sandwich and enjoy with an icy cold beer
2 ea. Medium onions
2 Tbsp. Sherry Vinegar, or as needed
Peel and julienne the onion
Put in a saucepan and set on a low heat
Let the onions sweat and then cook, stirring every now and then, for at least an hour. This can take as long as two hours, but let it go slowly. If you hurry, the onions will turn bitter
When the onions begin to turn golden add the sherry vinegar. If you do this right, the sugars in the onion will counteract the acid in the vinegar perfectly
8 oz. unsalted butter
*Truffles or shavings, minced
Truffle oil to taste
Salt & Pepper to taste
*you can find these online, but can find truffle oil at local higher scale markets
Whip the butter in a stand mixer until soft and then slowly add the oil if using
If not using oil, simply add the rest of the ingredients and adjust the flavor
*While you taste the pronounced flavor of the truffle at this point, make some truffle toast points. The heat really brings the truffle to life!