After driving across America multiple times I’ve learned that American cuisine can often be the same as it is different, that the quality of the Waffle House does really depend on which side of town you’re on, and that rarely is there something special about food served in a uniquely named restaurant or bar in the middle of nowhere.
A few years back I stopped at Al’s Oasis for a bit of culture and refueling in the restaurant/saloon attached to the all for one general store and trinket shop. The mostly All-American menu was largely uninspiring, except for the highlighted “Al’s Buffalo Burgers.” See up to that time I was a virgin in the ways of Bison, Buffalo, Tatanka, or wherever you wish to call the great animal of the plains, so I figured it was a sign that I need to step up to the plate.
The borderline grey, nondescript, flavorless burger that was served to me was only palatable by piling on every known American burger condiment. And while disappointment reigned supreme, I also realized that it was Al’s Oasis which was at fault and that there had to be a better way to enjoy Bison.
The recipe that follows is one of those better ways.
Keeping to a minimalistic construction of any Bison burger is key to allowing the natural flavors and cleanliness of the meat to express itself. The only additions to this burger are caramelized onions, the dry/firm version of Cotija cheese, and fresh ground pepper. The ingredients keep the equation simple acting to enhance the meat’s character while incorporating a subtle play on sweet & salty flavors.
Prepared on the grill or in kitchen, you’ll be surprised how good Tatanka tastes.
- 1 lb ground Bison
- 1 lrg red onion (thinly sliced)
- 2 tbsp Cotija cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Onion or seeded buns
- 1 tbsp butter
- Olive oil
- 1-2 cheap lager beer
- Toss the onions in a large frying pan over medium-low heat along with a splash of olive oil. Sprinkle the with salt and pepper.
- Caramelizing onions take upwards of 30-45 minutes and a ton of TLC.
- Continually stir the onions every few minutes and gradually add small amounts of beer, allowing the beer to cook off before adding the next dose.
- The onions are done cooking when they look similar to above and of course pass your taste test. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground bison meat, caramelized onions, cotija cheese, and a generous amount of pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
- Form the desired sized burger patties (1 lb of meat should easily form 4 good sized burgers). Remember to make an indentation in the middle top side of each burger to produce “flat” burgers.
- Cook over medium-low heat in a frying pan or over direct medium heat on the grill. Flip the burgers when the down side is slightly charred and continue to cook until an internal temperature of 140-160 degrees has been reached (depending on how well cooking you prefer your meat).
- Serve on a onion or seeded bun, with minimal condiments (we use only a special homemade ketchup), along with some spuds.
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