Adventures in Bison: My Presidential Inaugural Lunch Experiment

Confession: In the kitchen, I'm more awkward than a seventh grader at a school dance. My problem is two-fold: I find the process of cooking laborious and boring so I cook everything on high heat and on the rare occasions I actually do cook, no one wants to eat my food. Years after we broke up, an ex-boyfriend confessed that when I offered to cook for him, he would lie and say he had other plans. I even lived in an apartment for eight months and—I swear—never stepped foot in my kitchen (hello, takeout!)

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But the thing is, I love to eat. And when I read the White House menu and recipe for the upcoming Inaugural Presidential luncheon in January, the main dish immediately caught my eye: Hickory Grilled Bison with a side of red potato horseradish cake. I'd been hearing a lot about bison lately—it has 30 percent more protein than beef, less cholesterol and calories than skinless chicken, and is packed with high omega-3s, a.k.a, healthy fats. And although bison has recently become a buzzword in the foodie scene, it's always been the Joyce DeWitt of livestock, never really achieving its culinary moment unlike its showier counterpart, beef. I did a little digging and while I was surprised to learn that although Presidential Inaugural lunches of yore have always been cutting edge—Franklin Roosevelt dined on tongue, James Buchanan opted for venison, Harry Truman sipped green turtle soup, and George W. Bush feasted on quail—bison has never made the inaugural main menu until now.

Intrigued, I knew there was only one way to taste it: Cook it myself.

When I told my husband (A French man who thinks nothing of whipping up coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon on a Tuesday afternoon) that I'd be cooking that evening, he chuckled and said, "I would love to zee zis."

I was indignant. How hard it could be, really? I had a list of ingredients, directions for how to put them together, and now, apparently, a sarcastic husband to prove wrong.

The White House recipe served four people but I figured there'd be leftovers. I shelled out $71.48 at Whole Foods and returned home armed with two good-sized cuts of bison and an assortment of basic ingredients. After shooing my husband out of the kitchen, I got down to the business of marinating. I saturated each cut with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and a hefty shake of pepper and stored them in the fridge in a zip-lock bag. So far, easy.

I had four hours to kill while the steaks marinated so I got started on the potato horseradish cake, boiling four potatoes with a pinch of salt for 15 minutes. After draining the water, I dumped a tablespoon of horseradish, half a cup of Dijon mustard, two tablespoons of butter, half a cup of heavy cream, salt, pepper, and a handful of chopped chives into a bowl, then mashed away. When my arm got tired, I greased up a baking sheet I didn't even know I owned, and scooped little chunks of my raw potato creation onto the sheet. The recipe called for an ice cream scooper to achieve the firmest cake shape but I wasn't running Baskin Robins so I did the best I could with a tablespoon, then stored the sheet in the fridge.

Then, back to the bison. According to the recipe, I had to soak one quart of hickory wood chips in warm water for 30 minutes to enhance smokiness prior to grilling but since I don't own a grill or a smoke box, I flame-licked the steaks on the stove for 10 minutes until the meat was medium rare. While the bison was sizzling, I slid the potato cakes into the oven for about fifteen minutes and baked until crispy.

Setting the table, I couldn't wait to taste the meal and I was eager for my husband's reaction. Taking a tiny bite of the bison, I watched his expression morph from cautious to pleasantly surprised. "Well?" I asked impatiently.  

"Zee bison is amazing!" he exclaimed. And it actually was. In the end, I was sweaty and exhausted, but I was also proud of myself for at least trying to cook something as exotic as bison. OK, the potato cake was a tad too creamy but I'd say it's not too far off from what the White House plans to roll out on January 21st (you can see full menu and recipes here)—of course, they probably won't set off the fire alarm. 

4 each bison tenderloin, 5 oz
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon rosemary, fresh, rough chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 quart hickory wood chips, for grilling
Marinate bison steaks overnight with oil, garlic, rosemary and black pepper.

Remove the steaks from the refrigerator, remove the large pieces of rosemary and then season with salt and pepper on all sides of bison.  Allow the steaks to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes to allow the salt to dilute and penetrate the meat.

For grilling of the steaks, you will need to soak the wood chips in warm water for 30 minutes prior to grilling.  The wood chips should be added to your charcoal 5 minutes prior to grilling to allow them to burn and produce the necessary smoke you will need for the flavor in the steaks.

Grill steaks on each side for approximately 5-8 minutes for a medium rare steak, depending on thickness of the pieces.  Remove from grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes prior to serving.

Red Potato Horseradish Cake

1 pound red potato, medium sized, cut 1 inch dice, skin on
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard, whole grain
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup chives
1/2 gallon water
1 cup micro greens, available at specialty markets
Place potatoes, 1/4 to 1/2 gal water(or just enough to cover potatoes) and 1 tablespoon salt in a heavy bottom pot and bring to a boil.

Allow to simmer for approximately 10-15 minutes until tender.  Drain water and allow to sit in strainer for 5 minutes to allow all water to drain.

Place potatoes, Dijon, horseradish, 2 tablespoons butter, heavy cream, remaining salt, pepper and chives back into the same pot you used to boil potatoes.

With a large kitchen spoon, stir and smash potatoes until mixed but still chunky.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion a 3 oz. scoop onto a greased baking sheet.  Form potatoes into a cake shape and top with remaining 1 tablespoon of butter dividing equally among the 10 cakes.

Place potatoes under the broiler for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown.

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