Bison bolognese

Sam and I moved in together just as the weather took a turn for the colder. I’m actually glad it worked out that way, because I’ve jumped right into cooking lots of slow, stewy things–my favorite way to turn a house into a home. Our freezer is already full of stock, soup, and sauce, the bones of many hearty homemade meals to come. And when it came to the bolognese, I went a little overboard.

Shortly after the move, on a weekend day when we unexpectedly had no plans, I got a wild hankering for a nice rich meat sauce. It suddenly seemed utterly urgent that we have bolognese for days, not just a single dinner’s worth but a freezer-full. So I pulled out a Marcella Hazan recipe I’d had bookmarked for a while and set about making a double batch of sauce. We had pasta to use up anyway, I reasoned, and besides, I like a full freezer.

I swapped out bison for beef, because I like the flavor better and thought the substitution would make the sauce special. It took hours and hours, the way so many good sauces do, and became the basis of an incredibly comforting pasta meal that night. I’ve been slowly working through the leftovers, poaching eggs in the sauce and eating it with bread. It’s familiar and ultra-comforting: rubbly and meaty and rich, the perfect thickness for coating pasta or cradling eggs.

Now, honesty time. The bison in here was delicious, but also nearly indistinguishable from beef. Normally, for burgers and soups, I prefer ground bison to ground beef. I like where the flavor lands: very much like beef, but a little gamier and leaner. In a slow-simmered sauce like this, though, I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference. The meat nearly melts into the sauce, and the gaminess and leanness do too. It tastes for all the world like a classic beef bolognese–just a really, really good one.

bison bolognese

Bison Bolognese (makes about 5 cups)

Adapted slightly from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, via the New York Times

Note: If the sauce tastes a little too acidic after it’s done cooking, add a pinch or two of baking soda before removing it from the heat. The sauce will foam up a bit, then settle as you stir it.

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 medium celery stalk, diced

Salt to taste

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced

1 lb ground bison (buffalo)

1 cup milk

1/8 tsp ground or grated nutmeg

1 cup dry white wine

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add onion, carrot, celery, and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are starting to soften. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until fragrant.

Add bison and cook, using a spatula or wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces, until the meat has lost its pink color and started to release its juices into the pot. Add milk and nutmeg and cook, stirring frequently, until the milk has almost completely evaporated. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the wine has almost completely evaporated.

Add tomatoes, then rinse out each can with about a cup of water and add the water to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to keep it at a bare simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 4 hours, adding splashes of water as needed to keep the sauce from drying out. The sauce is ready when it’s thick, glossy, and deeply flavored–keep simmering or adding water until you’ve reached the consistency you like.

Serve the sauce over pasta, or however else you like. It will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Bison bolognese

  1. Veronika

    Hey!

    Glad to see you writing again and congratulations on the new place and making it a home! I have the exact same tendency to make home – stocking the freezer with soup and stock and stews is wonderful, especially in cold weather.

    I should try the bolognese recipe, it sounds great and different from mine – and I’ll take your advice and go with beef or beef/pork mix rather than the available-but-pricey ground moose or venison (not easy to get bison here but wild game is standard in freezer boxes of supermarkets).

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