Living in Winnipeg for five years in my mid-20s gave me more exposure to meats I might not have thought much about if I was living in Toronto, including bison. Winnipeg was where I first tasted something encrusted in coffee – the espresso-crusted seared tuna at Fude restaurant. As much as I’ve always loved bison and proteins cooked with coffee, I’d never personally experimented with either. So when a trip to our favorite Toronto grocery store, Fiesta Farms, turned up a great looking bison striploin I had to buy, and a brainstorm on what to do with the bison made stirred up memories of a dinner we had this summer at Angeline’s in Prince Edward County that included an amazing piece of coffee-crusted halibut, I knew that the rich, slightly sweet bison would match well with the earthy, nutty taste of ground coffee.
Rather than encrusting the bison in a thicker-grind crust, I decide to create a dry rub and pan-sear the meat. After getting a few ideas from recipes posted online, I came up with this recipe combining coffee with cocoa and a bit of heat. The measurements below made enough rub to generously coat a s1/3 lb piece of bison, with some rub leftover.
1/2 tbs cocoa powder
1/2 tbs ground coffee (I used a medium roast Hawaiian coffee. I’m not sure how other beans might affect the flavour, but this is something I’ll experiment more with.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (I used REALLY hot chilis my sister brought back from India, and they were a bit too much, but I imagine that this amount of ‘regular’ chili flakes would be the right amount of heat)
To cook the bison, I covered the meat with a generous amount of rub. I then pre-heat a pan over medium-high heat. From there, it turned into a bit of a guessing game as to when the meat was properly cooked. Initially, I seared it for about 3 minutes per side, based on a few website recommendations and since I knew bison is a low-fat meat that can overcook easily. After testing the meat and finding it still way too rare, I opted to cook it another 3 or 4 minutes on each side. That seemed to do the trick, since after letting it rest loosely tented under foil for 10 minutes and slicing it against the grain, I ended up with nice medium-rare bison. Next time I’ll definitely shoot for a 6 minute sear per side for a thicker cut steak.
Adventures in timing and doneness aside, the bison turned out great. The coffee-cocoa rub gave a really pronounced nutty coffee flavour, while the cocoa added a bit of sweetness and depth and the cayenne and chili flakes added a nice kick.
Jenny created the perfect side dish with a saute that combined chopped broccoli florets, frozen spinach and kale, one chopped shallot, and a handful of pine nuts and raisins. She began by sauteeing the shallot in olive oil on medium heat for several minutes until translucent, then adding the raisins and pine nuts. She cooked those for a few minutes, allowing the raisins to plump up a bit and the pine nuts to brown slightly, before adding in the broccoli and sauteing for another few minutes. Finally, she added the frozen spinach and kale and let it cook down. Once everything was cooked nicely, she squeezed the juice of half a lemon overtop and seasoned with salt. The sweetness of the raisins and the toasted nuttiness of the pine nuts (a classic southern Italian combo) were the perfect compliment to the fresh greens, and the lemon juice brightened up the flavors that came from the combination of simple ingredients.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to experiment with bison, or with coffee rubs, but I’m definitely going to be cooking more with both in the future. And if anyone has any great bison recipes or tips on great coffee-based rubs, we’d love to hear them – leave a comment below!