Martin Heuser’s bison schnitzel and maultaschen celebrate the German-born chef’s love affair with American bison.
“For me, the bison is the ultimate American animal,” says Heuser, who owns the Crossroads restaurant Affare.
Starting tonight (Wednesday), diners can order bison top round that has been breaded like a schnitzel served with German-style potato salad and a smoked onion-sherry cream sauce or maultaschen, a ravioli stuffed with barbecue bison meat and spinach, served in a caramelized onion bison broth.
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Beyond his contemporary German-inflected barbecue menu items, Heuser will also offer some upscale Kansas City dishes, as well as some Polynesian barbecue riffs for a total of nine items. Prices range from $8 for bison-barley soup to $36 for the smoked bison ribeye steak and bison ribs.
But don’t dawdle: The bison items are only available until he sells out of the meat, and last time he featured bison on the menu it was gone within a week.
Heuser buys his grass-fed, 20-day dry-aged meat from Lazy D Heart Ranch in Westmoreland, Kan., in the Flint Hills. He retrieved the 400-pound side late last week then butchered the meat at his restaurant on Saturday.
By Sunday Heuser was tending a smoker in the back alley behind his restaurant and learning the finer points of barbecuing bison with Russ Muehlberger, a multiple American Royal grand champion. Heuser, a master chef, is known for his touch with game meats but he says he was less familiar with Kansas City’s traditional low-and-slow barbecue techniques.
“We bonded on Saturday and Sunday rubbing and smoking, showing me the black outer crust and the ruby-red meat color where the salt penetrated the meat,” Heuser says of the collaboration. “He’s the kind of guy who can smell smoke and say, ‘cherry.’”
Muehlberger also assisted in making some of the sides and sauces, including a honey-spice barbecue sauce made with pureed raisins and a mustard horseradish sauce for the bison ribeye.
Because bison is so lean, Heuser and Muehlberger used rendered fat from previous bison purchases. The meat was dipped into liquid “lard” to keep it from drying out. “It’s not pork,” Heuser warns, “so you’re not going to taste the fat with leaner bison.”
Dry aging also adds to the tenderness, Muehlberger says.
Heuser uses all parts of the bison “from the neck to the leg” — including the bones, which are used to make consomme and demi-glace. “Nothing goes to waste,” he says.
And a special menu deserves a special dessert: Heuser’s pastry chef, JCCC culinary team member Kathryn Ratzlaff, developed a light champagne sorbet with honey-caramel peach compote on buttermilk pie decorated with dried peach skin, which one server noted during a Tuesday night tasting reminded them of the hide of a bison.
Jill Wendholt Silva is Chow Town’s James Beard award-winning food editor, lead restaurant critic and blog curator. Reach her at @kcstarfood and @chowtownkc.