If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I love bison. One of the best parts about us moving to Alberta is the abundance of game meats here for me to experiment with. It's so fun to cook with, has great flavour, and is really, really versatile. This weeknight bison Bolognese came out of me looking for a way to cook with ground bison without making burgers (although they are also great).
The best part about this dish? I use tomato paste, so the intense flavours cook really quickly, eliminating the need for hours of simmering. Voila! Weeknight bison Bolognese!
Growing up in Ontario, bison was just not an ingredient we had lying around. In fact, I don't remember seeing it until I was in my late twenties. Thankfully now, there are a few bison farms starting up in Ontario, and it's much more prevalent. When we moved to Alberta, it was everywhere, and my curiosity was peaked, although I was skeptical. Is it really that much different than beef? The answer is yes and no. The flavour is different, but definitely has many similarities. But the texture? Next level.
Cooking Ground Bison
One of the positives and negatives about bison is the lack of fat content. For recipes like bison short ribs, I actually love this. It means the braising liquid isn't covered in grease when it comes out of the pan, and the ribs are still fall-off-the-bone texture. In ground bison though, I usually need to add some type of fat content, like butter. Not only does this help enhance the flavour, but it helps soften up the texture of the meat, which can be quite tough. In this recipe we're using, wait for it, BACON!
For bison Bolognese, I make use of a food processor. It allows the veggies and bacon to cook down quickly, again cutting back on that cooking time to make it a weeknight bison Bolognese. I never realized that you can actually food process bacon, but it works like a charm! It crumbles it down so it mimics the texture of the ground meat. Perfect for this recipe.
From there, it's a pretty standard Bolognese cooking process (but you only have to simmer for 20 minutes!)
I really, really love the aromatics in this recipe. Of course, we're using red wine to braise, and then some more woody herbs like thyme and sage. But the secret ingredient? Cinnamon. You heard me. Throw a cinnamon stick in the pot at the beginning of the braising process and you will have this amazing je ne sais quois - ness about the dish that no one will be able to put their finger on. It's amazing, and pairs beautifully with the bison.
You definitely want to use something sturdy for this meal. A rigatoni of some kind would be ideal. Because I love experimenting with pasta shapes, I used funghetto for this one. So fun to look at and to eat!
It has a slightly sweet, earthy flavor. Many people prefer it to beef!
It's becoming more and more popular, so in some places you can find it at your local grocery store. If not, check with your local butcher. They may have some or could potentially order it in for you.
Bison farming just doesn't happen in the same large-scale that beef farming does. That's also why you may not bison recipes that often on restaurant menus. There's just less of it, and that makes it cost more.
Weeknight Bison Bolognese
- Food processor
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb ground bison
- 4 slices bacon ground in food processor
- 1 lb your favourite pasta
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ C dry red wine such as chianti
- 1½ C chicken broth
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- ⅓ C heavy cream
- 1 C parmesan cheese grated
- In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add the olive oil, bacon, and ground bison. Cook until there's almost no liquid left in the pot.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add your pasta and cook according to package directions.
- Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the food processor. Grind until all are in very small pieces, almost resembling the ground meat. Add it to the bacon and bison. Cook until it begins to soften, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the tomato pasta and stir, making it coat the rest of the ingredients.
- Deglaze the pan with red wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Add the chicken stock, chili flakes, sage, thyme, and cinnamon stick. Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the heavy cream and parmesan. If it's looking a little thick, thin it out with some pasta water. Add your cooked pasta to the pot. Serve with extra parmesan and black pepper.