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Bison Burgers from Brookfield Zoo

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bison meat is a healthy alternative for beef. Now chefs at Brookfield zoo cater to meat-eaters by serving up burgers, chili and tacos made with free-range bison meat. Serving up bison burgers may seem contrary to the zoo's mission, but it is one of the best hopes for the bison's future. In recent years, bison meat has grown in popularity because of its low-fat and high-iron content, resulting in the expansion of bison ranching. As demand for natural prairie-fed and free-range bison expands, so do bison populations and the native prairie pastures on which they roam.

Bison burgers are on the menu at the Zoo's Bison Prairie Grill. The restaurant creates a North Woods atmosphere offering visitors a view of the prairie and grazing bison. Picnic tables, located just outside the restaurant, provide a relaxing setting. The menu includes traditional and non-traditional items, including free-range bison burgers, Navajo tacos with bison chili, Corona battered cod, and Texas-style pulled pork sandwiches and sliders, 1/3-pound Angus burgers, grilled barbecue chicken breast sandwiches, Connie's flat bread pizzas, Vienna jumbo hot dogs, portabella mushroom sandwiches, sandwich of the day, and freshly made salads. Side dishes include home-style macaroni and cheese, cowboy beans, sweet potato fries, fried green beans, cinnamon apples, and hand-cut potato chips.

The Bison Prairie Grill is part of the Brookfield Zoo's new Great Bear Wilderness Exhibit. Opened in May, the exhibit has a Native-American theme and resembles a National Park. North American animals that call this exhibit home are polar bears, brown bears, wolves, bald eagles, bison, and a raven. The Great Bear Wilderness explains the animals' past, present, and future status; their deep cultural significance to people; and the survival challenges they face. The exhibit features a 3,600-square-foot underwater viewing area in an Arctic setting with views of the polar bear pools through 21-foot-wide by 8- and 10-foot-high acrylic windows.

Located on the plaza of Great Bear Wilderness, the 1,500-square-foot Bear Crossing gift shop reflects the tone of the exhibit with rustic lodge-type architecture and fixtures. It supports the mission of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, and the exhibit's emphasis on conservation and the restoration of the North American Plains and Arctic regions.

Staff incorporated the principles of "reduce, reuse, and recycle" when constructing the gift shop. For instance, recycled and repurposed fixtures were used. A Wisconsin carpenter built shelving units, a harvest table, and display racks from old barn wood. An "ecoartist" from northern Illinois made shelves for toys and games from reused doors and window frames. And recycled tin was used to fabricate the rustic-looking trees used to set the lodge-like tone of the shop. In addition, trips to local flea markets yielded a treasure trove of items that were adapted for use as display fixtures.

The store's merchandise highlights the animals of Great Bear Wilderness. Much of the unique giftware is handcrafted by Native American and other artists and craftspeople in North America and Mexico. The Native American-made products highlight traditional and more modern Native American art forms and help tell the story of the interrelatedness between animals and people. They include dream catchers, ceremonial shakers, drums, handmade miniatures, and prints, tiles, and ornaments based on original paintings. In addition, there are traditional handmade Navajo herbal balms made by Medicine of the People and Native American crafted jewelry.

For more information on Great Bear Wilderness visit www.GreatBearWilderness.com and www.czs.org/Brookfield/Zoo.

You can taste the bison burgers, Navajo tacos and bison chili at the zoo, or you can try Chef Robert Ares' recipes at home:

BURGER BISON

  • 1-1/3 Bison Burger
  • Parker House Roll
  • Sliced Red Onion
  • Lettuce Leaves
  • Sliced Tomato
  • Salt and Pepper for Seasoning

Salt and Pepper both sides of the burgers before grilling

Place on the grill (Char Griller)

Grill approximately 2-3 minutes on each side or until you reach the desired temperature for your burger

Remove from the grill and serve on a Parker house Hamburger Roll

Garnish with Lettuce, Tomato and Red Onion Slices to complete your Bison Burger

You can also top with Ketchup, Mustard, Relish or what ever other topping you like on your burgers!

NAVAJO TACO

  • 1 ea Flat Bread
  • 2 ounces of Bison Chili
  • 1 ounce of Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2 ounce Diced Tomatoes
  • 1/2 ounce of Shredded Lettuce
  • 1/2 ounce of diced onion (Red or White)
  • 1/2 ounce of Sour Cream

This is our version of a Navajo Taco. We use Indian Flat Bread as a healthy option

Start out by dicing up all your ingredients and having them ready so you can assemble your Navajo Taco as soon as the Flat Bread comes off the grill.

Place the flat bread on the grill and heat on both sides until the bread is heated all the way through. This will take only a minute or two.

When the bread is hot, place it on a plate and assemble in the following order:

  1. Chili
  2. Shredded Lettuce
  3. Cheddar Cheese
  4. Diced Tomatoes
  5. Diced Onions
  6. Top With Sour Cream

This is intended to be eaten in much the same manner as a taco

BISON CHILI

  • 5 lbs Ground Bison Meat
  • 4 oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 8 oz of Diced onions
  • 2 oz Chili Powder
  • 1 oz Cumin
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 2 oz of Cayenne - More or less depending on your heat level
  • 2 oz of Chopped Garlic
  • 1 gal of your Favorite Vegetarian Chili

Start with a gallon of your favorite vegetarian chili, or you can make your own vegetarian chili.

Sauté the Ground Bison Steak with the oil and the seasonings. Again you can adjust the seasonings to your taste adding more heat to the chili or less. It is a personal preference.

Once you have browned the meat add the sautéed meat to the chili and let simmer for about 30 minutes

You are now ready to serve it. If you want to serve just the Chili as the soup or Entrée you can top it with the ingredients that you top the Navajo taco with or use it to make your Navajo Tacos

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