Bison Meatballs Recipe
Introduction by Monte Matthews
Long before HipSilver was a glint in my eye, I witnessed the arrival of Bison or Buffalo in my local supermarket. A Day-Glo Orange sign heralded its arrival in the meat case. Not only had it arrived but it was billed as “The Meat of the Future”. A chart compared it favorably to both beef and chicken. It was lower in cholesterol, lower in fat, higher in protein and, from its particular purveyor, free of all those pesky antibiotics. To be fair, there was an asterisk next to chicken. It had to have its skin on to fail so miserably in those comparisons. The man who presided over the meat counter could not say enough good things about it. Its taste, its texture, the ease of preparation were all music to the meat department. It had to be slow-cooked of course but it was altogether a new item to add to any cook’s repertoire. Add it I did, and I’ve continued to enjoy it several times a year. I discovered a world of roasts and steaks and even sausage!. If it’s not on your bucket list, it should be.
The fact that there actually are American buffalo in sufficient numbers to provide meat anywhere is a true tribute to this animal. Not a true Buffalo, it is more correctly “Bison”. That’s the name The National Bison Association want to encourage. This distinguishes this American native from the Asian Water Buffalo and the African Cape Buffalo to which it is not related. But, it’s a tough sell. Buffalo is ingrained in the history of the American West, and it well should be; this great beast was all but wiped out in one of the most ignominious slaughters in history. As the country pushed west of the Mississippi in the 1820s, "the plains were black and appeared in motion" wrote an unknown, contemporary writer. These were the great herds of bison whose numbers have been estimated between 60 and 100 million animals. Weighing up to 3500 lbs., bison had fed and clothed the Plains Indians for hundreds of years. The killing of a single male bison provided 1250 lbs. of meat. But the buffalo’s role in Native American life hardly stopped at being a foodstuff. The hide was cured and used for clothing, teepees, saddles, harnesses, lassos, and bowstrings. Tendons and sinews became thread. The hair was braided into rope, the stomachs used for cooking pots and water buckets, the bladders for rafts. Horns became spoons and ladles. Even buffalo chips were used. Called “Prairie Coal”, they provided fuel in this all-but treeless landscape.
Here at HipSilver, we salute Native American heritage every chance we get. Thus, we offer the work of George Burdeau. A member of the Blackfeet nation, Burdeau has been a prime time television producer/director, writer, and artist for the past forty years. At right, you can see his genius as he celebrates the connection between Native Americans and the American Bison.
In a matter of a few years, the buffalo population was decimated in the west. In order to raise cattle on the land, early settlers slaughtered the free-ranging animals. As they built railroads, huge numbers of buffalo were dispensed of their right-of-way. Once the trains ran, the railroads hired professional gunmen who rode the rails killing any buffalo that wandered onto their tracks. Buffalo Bill Cody came by his name honestly. In one single year, working for the Union Pacific Railroad, he dispatched 4280 of the animals. But, there was something even more sinister at work here. The Native Americans were so dependent on the animal that the white men believed that, by eliminating it, they would eliminate the Indians themselves.
This image is from Gwendolen Cates 'Indian Country' a spectacular look at contemporary Native Americans.
If the Plains Indians were proof that "you are what you eat", consider these facts: they had no reported incidence of cancer, they had no reported incidence of heart disease, their average life span was 85 to 90 years of age, and, when they died, it was generally from lack of dental care. They could no longer eat what had sustained them and that, of course, was buffalo. By 1906, there were 260 buffalo in all of the United States. Fortunately, government protection was finally granted to the animals. Today, there are well over 100,000 bison in public and private hands. Every year, 15,000 buffalos are brought to market, yielding some seven and a half million pounds of meat. They’re still concentrated in the West but they’re moving all over the country from New Hampshire to North Carolina.
I am always on the lookout for anything to break the protein monotony of chicken, beef, pork, and fish. So when I was casting about for a new meatball recipe, I was pleased to see one from the Bison Council, the group dedicated to promoting, preserving, and stewarding the North American Bison. They’re a powerful force in getting their members “to maintain the highest standards and ideals of animal care and husbandry, sustainability, food safety, purity of ingredients and quality”. And at their root, they are driven by great affection for the “majesty, power, and nobility of the North American Bison”. And if these meatballs are any indication, they are doing a spectacular job. HipSilver has shopped around to bring you the best in bison. Wild Idea is the brainchild of Dan O'Brien who says this of his superb Bison offerings:
“I have dedicated my life to preserving and restoring the Great Plains grasslands. These same principles are the foundation of Wild Idea Buffalo Company. By returning the bison to their native homeland, we’re not only re-wilding a threatened ecosystem, we are keeping prairies intact, with carbon stored safely underground, and producing the healthiest red meat on the planet.”
— DAN O'BRIEN
And since you first eat with your eyes, we found the perfect dinnerware to spotlight your new discovery. It has a rustic handle and comes in an array of colors that is simply gorgeous. Mary Anne Davis made her first set of dinnerware for a client when she was just 17 years old. Now her studio in Spencertown, New York turns out Davistudio Fine Porcelain. We were so taken with everything we saw we photographed our bison meatballs in one of their platters to give you some idea of the range of what’s on offer, all hand-glazed and, of course, dishwasher friendly. We love this dinnerware so much, we’d like to make a bold suggestion: if you’ve got a wedding gift to give, do away with the Granny China patterns and consider how young people live today. This wonderful collection is modern, clean, and up-to-date with today’s taste for minimalism, color, and craft.
If you are as taken in by this story and the history of this noble animal, why not add this whimsical, American-made weathervane to your property? A handsome copper-tone finish adds a hammered textured appearance to it. This weather-resistant and durable finish has a nice reflective quality to it that causes the vane to glisten in direct sunlight, making it a beautiful way to observe the direction of the wind.
Now, back to our meatballs, I made a few changes to the original recipe. What I discovered was that the meatballs are helped by stewing them in plenty of sauce. Spicy is a relative term; here, I added Sriracha because we love spice. If you don’t, just eliminate it. I also made the meatballs in two sizes: one a bite sized appetizer to rival any Swedish Meatball. Talk about a conversation piece! I made a full-sized meatball that can take on any kind of spaghetti. They retain every one of their health benefits over beef with less fat and fewer calories and they deliver a bold taste. I chose to make them a center of the plate item that I served with pasta. It made a really special meal. Almost as special as a bison itself.
OUR RECIPE FOR BISON MEATBALLS
Spicy Saucy Bison Meatballs from the Bison Council
Prep Time 15 minutes. Cooking Time 15 minutes. Makes 45 cocktail size meatballs or 21 Full-sized Spaghetti Meatballs.
For the Meatballs
2 lbs. Ground Bison
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup bread crumbs, plain
3 tbsp. of fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground basil
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
For the spicy sauce
6 tbsp. green relish
3/4 cup ketchup
15 ounce can tomato sauce
6 tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup water
3 tbsp. vinegar (use Balsamic if you like a sharper flavor)
1 tbsp. Sriracha Sauce (Optional)
Good pinch of cracked black pepper
To make the Meatballs
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In a large bowl, add ground bison, egg, onion, parsley, bread crumbs,
pepper, salt, basil and Worcestershire sauce and mix well with your
Form into quarter sized or golf ball sized balls and place on an oiled sheet
careful not to overcrowd and let the meatballs touch.
Bake in oven 15 minutes.
Makes about 25 meatballs.
To make the Spicy Sauce
Mix the green relish, ketchup, tomato sauce, onion, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, water, vinegar and cracked pepper together in a large non-stick pan.
Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add cooked meatballs and cook gently for another 10-15 minutes until meatballs are heated through.