From the Mackinac Policy Conference with Food: A Healthy and Delicious Recipe for Buffalo Tartar

The three words “rare bison meat” strung together may make even the heartiest of foodies a little squeamish.

And when I arrived at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island for the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference, they were the last three words I could have imagined confronting me at the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan “healthy cooking” demonstration.

I must admit to being a little overwhelmed by sentimentalities and predispositions. After all, this was the Great American Buffalo – monarch of the Great Plains and, until recently, an endangered animal.  And here it was, ground to a fine texture and served up on toast.

A Lean Alternative to Red Meat

I’ve always been predisposed to think that raw or rare red meat was something to avoid. After all, most American chain restaurants now provide “undercooked” warnings on the bottoms of their menus, and they burn the meat regardless of whether or not you order it “medium.”

But before I could put my “sponsor” hat on and sound the alarm, my preconceived notions were expertly addressed by Kevin, a Grand Hotel chef, who explained that top grade beef (or bison) can actually be served up as sushi if prepared correctly. Apparently, most impurities are found in the fatty content of the meat, and if the meat is lean (as is the case with bison), it can be prepared “tartar” and be quite delicious and healthy.

Pictures from the Grand Hotel and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s “Live Healthy Live Grand” Healthy Cooking Demonstration

The Grand Hotel’s recipe for “Tartar of Buffalo Tenderloin, Caramelized Pearl Onions” is below. It can be found on page 44 of the “Live Healthy, Live Grand” day planner being distributed to Grand Hotel guests as part of a partnership between BCBSM and Grand Hotel to promote healthy lifestyles during the 2011 summer season on Mackinac Island.

And to answer the question I’m sure you’re asking: Yes, I tasted a sample. It was so good, I had two.

Tartar of Buffalo Tenderloin, Caramelized Pearl Onions

Serves 4


  • 1 lb Buffalo Tenderloin
  • 2-tbsp. minced shallots
  • 1-tbsp minced anchovies
  • 2-tbsp. capers
  • 2-tbsp. minced sour pickles
  • 2-tbsp. Chopped Italian parsley
  • 2-tbsp. ketchup
  • 2-tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1-tbsp. Tabasco
  • 1-tbsp. cognac
  • 2-tsp. minced garlic
  • 2-tsp. paprika
  • 2-tsp. olive oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Salt and pepper as needed

Remove all silver skin and fat from the tenderloin. Dice the meat finely, using a knife. Add the remaining ingredients and mix together thoroughly, adjust seasonings if needed. Form 4 equal quenelles of the buffalo tartar and top each with the pearl onion compote.

Caramelized Pearl Onions:

  • 1 tsp pumpkinseed oil
  • 1-cup pearl onions finely diced
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar

Sauté the onion and sugar in pumpkinseed oil over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper. When the onions are completely caramelized, add the balsamic vinegar and cook for two more minutes.

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  1. Fantastic blog post, Andy. Of course, anything involving rare meat is fantastic to me.

    In all seriousness, more people should be aware of the quality of bison meat, particularly the way The Grand Hotel prepares it. For that matter, I just had my first taste of tartar not too long ago, and it is not bad at all. Quite good, really.

    Enjoy Mackinac!

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