Sunday, January 30, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Colorado II - Denver buffalo buffalo...

Many of the people eating those Western omelet sandwiches in the previous post would have been cattle ranchers and cowboys (again, Brokeback Mountain comes to mind). Cattle is an important part of life in Colorado, as it has been for well over a century.

Snacking State-by-State: Colorado

Official Name: State of Colorado
State Nickname: The Centennial State
Admission to the US: August 1, 1876 (#38)
Capital: Denver (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Colorado Springs (2nd largest), Aurora (3rd largest), Lakewood (4th largest); Fort Collins (5th largest)
Region: West, Southwest, Rocky Mountains; Mountain (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Bison, Pinyon Nut
Bordered by: Wyoming (north); Nebraska (northeast); Kansas (east); Oklahoma (southeast); New Mexico (south); Arizona (southwest - one of the Four Corners states); Utah (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: nothing, but note: Greenback Cutthroat Trout (fish - but, it is endangered so you better not eat it!!!)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Southwestern (New Mexican) cuisine, beef, bison & buffalo, Denver/Western omelet and sandwich

The Colorado Beef Council notes that about a third of all Colorado counties are dependent on the beef industry, and that close to 60% of all agricultural product is beef [Colorado Beef Council, date unknown]. Coloradans, as all Westerners, found uses in many parts of the animal. That includes that most legendary of organ meats, the Rocky Mountain oyster. Though not as popular a delicacy as they used to be, they’re still the stuff of legend in Colorado. But they’re not terribly easy to find here in Maryland, which is why I am not bringing you a Rocky Mountain oyster recipe (Want one? Check out Josh Bishop’s post at This Michigan ex-pat writes about his first experience with the stuff in his new home in Denver).

I even thought far enough outside the box to consider that much more indigenous of Western bovines, the bison. The great North American Bison bison roamed this part of the continent for thousands of years, and though it almost went extinct it has made an important comeback, and is back on the dinner plates not just of Coloradans but many Americans. Steve Raabe writes for the Denver Post about the resurgence of bison, and crunches the numbers:

Colorado has about 185 bison ranchers with about 15,475 animals, ranking the state fourth in production, behind South Dakota, Nebraska and North Dakota. While the USDA does not track retail sales, Colorado is believed to rank at or near the top of the nation in per- capita consumption because of the high penetration of bison products in grocery stores and restaurants.
Bison advocates say consumers are attracted by the meat's taste and nutritional profile — leaner than comparable cuts of beef and other red meats. [Raabe 2010]
There are now bison farms all over the US, including in Maryland, where they didn’t really roam. I contacted Gunpowder Bison, that local favorite of Baltimore bison aficionados, but they were out, but took my name and number for when they get them (hell, it’s not like buffalo balls grow on trees). So no fried balls for now. Instead, I’m heading back to that much more simple and easy to prepare recipe, the burger, this time done Southwest - er, New Mexican style - in this case, with some bright green chiles.

The recipe: Best Bison Burger, New Mexican-style

There is many a recipe out there for bison burgers. The one I went with was a simple preparation from Chef Forrest Waldo, who wrote it for Denver-based High Plains Bison. I confess, however, that I made some minor additions to Southwestify it.

The most important, and expensive, ingredient is the bison. No big surprise there. So as not to waste the trip to Gunpowder Bison, at least I left with a pound of ground bison (about $8) - enough to make four quarter-pound burgers. In addition I added the following:

* Worcestershire sauce (got it)
* Tabasco sauce (had none, but I substituted El Yucateco’s smoky hot chipotle sauce)
* granulated garlic (none on hand? Just finely chop a clove of garlic like I did)
* To the recipe I added two small chiles from my garden plot, freshly thawed from the freezer.
* salt, pepper and olive oil (got them - this is for dipping the bison patties into before frying)
* And of course, soft hamburger buns (a bag of 6 for $3)

For an added New Mexican twist, in addition to the chiles I added to the meat, I also flame-roasted a poblano chile and quartered it, reserving one slice of chile for each burger. For a topping, I blended together an avocado, a flame-roasted Roma tomato and a squeeze of lime. Wisconsin cheddar finished off some of the burgers.

The recipe is pretty simple: mix the bison with the first four ingredients, then form into patties.

Chef Forrest recommends you dip each patty into the seasoned olive oil until covered, and fry those burgers up. Flip them over a few times. They are done when they no longer run with red blood.

Notice that beer in the background? New Belgium Brewery of Fort Collins, CO, y'all need to get Fat Tire out here in Maryland. Pretty please. I had to smuggle this bottle in my luggage from California. That's not easy.

It’s pretentious artsy foodie word time, folks, and I apologize. Here goes: these burgers were luscious. That’s how I can best describe them, I just can’t help it. Remembering back to my first experience with bison back at a rest stop in California, I told people that it tasted sort of like beef, only subtler and cleaner. That’s bison for you: a nice, gorgeous-tasting meat. Yes, pricey, but I don’t eat it that often. The ingredients all do a good job not of masking but of complementing the bison. This goes for my impromptu guacamole. There’s something about avocado that seems to go very nicely with bison, and here I found that out firsthand.

For my next few posts I head “Back East” as it were - to the Deep South, to the Mid-Atlantic, and right next, to my first foray on this trip-by-blog-post to New England. It’s real, bona fide Yankee cuisine as I head north to Connecticut!


Beard, James A. James Beard's American Cookery. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company 1972. Parts also available on Google Books.

Bishop, Josh. “Rocky Mountain Oysters: Try Them If You Dare”. (Life, Leisure & Travel in the Centennial State), date unknown. Copyright GoWorld Publishing, 2003-2011.

Colorado Beef Council. “The Legacy of Cattle in Colorado”. Colorado Beef Council, date unknown. Copyright Colorado Beef Council, 2011.

Monette, Mark (interview). “Let’s Talk Colorado Cuisine: Mark Monette”., date unknown. Copyright Colorado Tourism Office, 2011.

New Mexico Tourism Department. “New Mexico Cuisine (Culinary Enchantment)”., date unknown. Copyright New Mexico Tourism Department, 2010.

Raabe, Steve. “Bison becoming the other red meat”. Denver Post, published April 22, 2010.

Wagner, Kyle. “The Bite: The yolk's on us”. Denver Westword, published Thursday, Mar 15 2001.

Waldo, Forrest. “Best Bison Burger”. High Plains Bison, date unknown. Copyright High Plains Bison (a Trade Name of Golden Bison Company), 2010.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Colorado" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods webpage link to "Colorado”.