Buffalo: It's Tender On Your Heart

If you've given up beef but still crave red meat, you can have your steak and good health, too. Eat buffalo. It's lower in fat, cholesterol, and calories.

Unlike the tough, old animals the Indians ate, today's buffalo are custom-fed and slaughtered at about 18 months. So the meat is as tender as beef and sweeter. "Most people come in because buffalo's new and different," says David Peters, executive chef at the Denver Buffalo Co., which operates a restaurant in Denver and a ranch near Kiowa, Colo. "They come back and bring their friends because they like it."

KOSHER, TOO. Bison are not given growth hormones, so their meat is considered natural. And you don't have to feel guilty eating buffalo, because with some 100,000 animals grazing on private ranches and in government parks, they are no longer an endangered species.

In addition to the Denver Buffalo Co., both The Fort and the Buckhorn Exchange in Denver serve buffalo. But you don't have to go West to savor it. La Colline, a French restaurant in Washington, D.C., prepares buffalo steak, braised tongue, and "mountain oysters"--fried testicles. Tommys Joynt in San Francisco offers buffalo stew and sandwiches, and Walt Disney World's most exclusive restaurant, Victoria & Albert's at the Grand Floridian Beach Resort, prepares grilled buffalo fillet in a cabernet raisin sauce. Even New York's kosher Levana restaurant serves buffalo dinners.

Buffalo is available for the home range, too. Butcher shops and some supermarkets carry steaks, roasts, and ground bison. You can order buffalo by mail from Denver Buffalo Co. (800 BUY-BUFF). Four eight-ounce top sirloin steaks (including air freight) are $49, four 12-ounce rib eyes, $85. Gift boxes containing salami, jerky, and meat sticks are among other items priced from $35.50 to $98.50.

QUICK COOKING. Other mail-order purveyors include Kutney's Korner Bison Ranch in Meshoppen, Pa. (717 965-2237), which ships fresh meat along with sausage and chipped bison, and Ken-Ada Ranches in Bartlesville, Okla. (918 336-8211), which sells two types of jerky--mesquite-smoked and hot-and-spicy.

You cook buffalo like beef but at a lower temperature. Because of its low fat content, it cooks faster and burns quicker. Roast buffalo at 275F instead of 325F, and grill steaks and hamburgers farther from the coals. The meat should be served rare, since it toughens as it cooks.

Buffalo has one more advantage. The low fat makesit more filling than beef, which means you can get by on smaller portions--avoiding even more calories and chol-esterol.