Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Bear of an Evening

I had bear last night. Let me correct myself. I cooked bear and ate bear last night.

Here's the story. A while ago one of our friends expressed an interest in finding some bear meat and asked if we would try it with him and his sweetie. We were willing, but, apparently, the cost proved exorbitant. Nothing more was said.

Hubby and I visit my parents for Christmas and guess what? A hunter had shot a bear on my father's farm and given him some bear meat. The "bear invasion" where my folks live was the talk of the entire county over the holidays. Now, my mother does not cook (or at least not much) and even if she did cook, no way would she even think about consuming bear. Thus, hubby and I were the lucky recipients of the much-talked-about meat.

The plot was then hatched. Have our unsuspecting couple over for dinner with enticements of pheasant (my father goes pheasant hunting on occasion and my mother does not cook pheasant, either). We set the date and now a slight case of panic ensues. How do I cook this hunk of meat?? What else do I serve with it? Maybe I should have a backup dish just in case?

We tossed out a few ideas and did a bit of research on the internet. Grilling had some drawbacks. Bear was supposed to be tough and it needed to be thoroughly cooked due to potential trichinosis (did you know that bear is part of the porcine family?). The hunting and cook what you shot websites were less than stellar in information, recipes, etc. I asked another hunter friend of mine and he found a bear burgundy recipe. This seemed acceptable. We then decided to prepare the bear two different ways. We looked to Indian cuisine and found a Rogan Josh recipe made with lamb and substituted bear instead.

The prep work began the Sunday before the dinner on Saturday. The bear had to thaw. On Thursday I prepared a white wine marinade with carrots, onions, and herbs (most of the internet advice stated that bear needed to be marinated at least a couple of days). The meat itself was a very dark red, almost purple. It reminded me of ostrich in some ways. I trimmed as much of the fat off as I could before marinating.

On Friday, I took half of the bear, dried it off, and cut it into chunks. I then placed it in a marinade of ginger root, garlic, and plain yogurt.

Saturday - the big day. The bear meat left in the white wine marinade was removed, dried off, and cut up into bite-sized pieces. I placed the meat in a heavy enamel pot, topped it with carrots and onions, and covered it with beef stock and red wine. The top was placed on the pot and into a 325 degree oven for about 3 hours. For the Rogan Josh I sauteed onions, added various spices (cardamon, coriander, cumin, chili powder, bay leaves), sauteed the bear, and added chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Usually, this dish calls for braising on top of the stove. I covered the pot and placed it in the oven, instead to cook for more than 2 hours.

While all of that was hopefully making the bear tender, I worked on a pumpkin and shrimp bisque and a back-up dish: chicken with green olives and capers.

Our unsuspecting guests arrived. We planned it so all was hidden and we shooed them into the dining room for a bit of cheese and wine. I served the soup. A bit twangy due to the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I used, but decent. Hubby would have liked more shrimp in the dish.

After the soup we presented the chicken first and also wild rice. Puzzled faces appeared. This did not look like pheasant. We then presented the bear along with the story of our acquiring the meat.

The long slow cooking did the trick. The bear was tender and looked a lot like beef with a venison, slightly gamey flavor. Both dishes were tasty. We enjoyed a 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel with the meal. Given the vast differences in cooking preparations, this wine served us well.

Bear Burgundy
Bear Burgundy
Bear Rogan Josh
Bear Rogan Josh
For dessert, our guests brought a pear, cranberry, and maple pie. Yummy!

So wow! We had bear. It was good. I'm not sure I would pay top dollar price for it, but if someone handed me some bear meat, I would not turn it down.

And our friend could cross another item off of his bucket list.

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