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Bison, the new bacon?

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Is bison the new bacon? Or lamb?

OK, maybe not - but it's on Wrigley Field's menu this season, in the form of a bison meatball sandwich (not just any bison, but bison from the Wyoming ranch of the Ricketts family, who own the Cubs, thankyouverymuch).

And it's the centerpiece of a new restaurant at Brookfield Zoo, the Bison Prairie Grill. The restaurant is a permanent addition that will compliment the zoo's new Great Bear Wilderness exhibit (also permanent), where six bison will reside, along with grizzly bears, bald eagles, wolves and other grand animals straight out of the pages of your 3rd-grade history book.

On the menu at Bison Prairie Grill: bison burgers and Navajo tacos with bison chili, along with more predictable fare, including Vienna Beef hot dogs, portobello sandwiches and flatbread pizzas.

We've already made know our affection for bison. Its meat is as tasty as beef but markedly lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than beef, pork and chicken.

And how can you not root for bison, which at one time, numbered in the tens of millions? The animal was nearly extinct by the late 19th century, but efforts in recent years to preserve and grow the population are paying off. To save bison, we need to eat bison. Trust us - it's not that hard a sell.

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A chat with my best friend in Kansas happened to coincide with a doctor's revelation that my husband's cholesterol needs to be nudged back into a safe place. Naturally, I headed to the store.

Enough with the bacon and the Sunday steak, I thought. Except that the husband would sooner starve than eat something as mockable as, say, chicken chili, no matter who made it.

That brought me back to thinking about a visit to my Kansas friend's home last year. Ruhe had made a simple dinner in her slow cooker for us -- a chili-baked beans hybrid made with ground bison, homemade biscuits on the side. It was so tasty. It was so Kansas.

Bison, she told me, is the meat of choice in her home. It's markedly lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, chicken or pork. And of course, this being Kansas, bison is widely available in most grocery stores there. Where was I this whole time?

Bison has everything going for it. Why isn't it easier to come by in Chicago? At Whole Foods, fresh ground bison is $7.99 a pound.

Fortunately, Ruhe's recipe is hard to mess up and open to all sorts of interpretation. And the husband? He ate it up.

Roughly:
Brown 1 pound of ground bison (with 1 chopped onion, if you like). Add 1 can each drained black beans, butter beans, kidney beans and lima beans (or any combination thereof). Stir in 1 cup ketchup, 1/2 to 1 cup brown sugar (1 cup verges on one-dimensionally sweet) and a pinch of salt. If you have a slow cooker, let it do its thing; if not, cook in a Dutch oven in a 225-degree oven, stirring occasionally, for a few hours until it smells and tastes good.

Note: Ruhe sometimes subs KC Masterpiece barbecue sauce for the ketchup and brown sugar; other times, she adds curry and peas, a nod to her British-Pakistani heritage.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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