Friday, June 9, 2017

Spring Black Bear - Good Eating

On-line descriptions of bear meat as greasy and gamey give this tasty fare a BAD RAP.  I have NEVER found that to be true for the black bears we harvest in May and June (here in Alaska).  In fact, they are so lean (after a long winter in hibernation) that there is too little fat to save for lard.  

If you have been interested in trying bear meat but disappointed by the paucity of available recipes (almost always a stew), perhaps the list below of some of my preparations will be appealing. Since I am the kind of chef who cooks with a “bit of this and a bit of that,” the following meals are descriptions, rather than detailed recipes.
The backstrap is slim, like a flank steak, but as tender as a beef fillet.  We grill it and flavor it like any beef steak.

The huge hams (shoulders and butt)  I smoke (over local alder wood)  between 170-200 degrees F for 10 hours.  The meat looks like roast beef but in taste and texture is more like smoked pork loin.  We cut them up to use in sandwiches, such as reubens and ham and cheese, and as a meat in entree salads, pea soups, and bean dishes. I don't flavor them when smoking, in order to vary the recipes later for all those pounds of meat... over many meals.

We generally peel the shank (upper leg) into smaller pieces. Some, I freeze raw for future inspiration.  The rest, I cook right away, usually over the course of two days.

My first meal with fresh meat is usually “Bear Beergingnon”  (stew made with homemade beer rather than wine).  I dredge the meat in flour and herbs, brown it, and then cook it in a pressure cooker (which renders any meat fork tender) with onions, garlic, and anything else that looks appealing at the time. The texture of the recent stew was rather like a brisket and the liquids reduced to a silky gravy.  It was wonderful over rice the first night, and, like many stews, even better the next, over pasta. Not a drop or morsel remained, even for a friend who had not tried bear meat before. An alternative to this has been a paprikash version, flavored with smoked paprika (and I added chipotle peppers) and tomato paste.  When that cooled, I added sour cream to the sauce.  Tasty last night.

This year, for the first time, I corned several pounds (as an alternative to corned beef).  The gist of corning is a cold, flavored brine for several days, followed by cooking, although I froze mine for later use. My brine recipe incorporated sugar, salt, garlic, cardamom, ginger, allspice, and various peppers.  I don't think I'll repeat.  Corning changes the texture of the meat, making it firmer, almost rubbery, as anyone who has left a chicken or turkey too long in brine can attest.  I prefer the fork tender results of other preparation methods.  Another big hunk I cooked like a brisket and served with rice and black beans.

Most of the smaller pieces of meat (chicken breast/pork chop size and smaller) I smoke first (4 hours) and THEN flavor, which sounds backwards, but I can cook more meat in fewer pans and then freeze it, dry, with less blood leakage in my freezer/refrigerator.

The smallest pieces lie on mesh wire and are cooked dry to jerky. This year, I flavored one tray with a dry rub of salt, sugar, smoked paprika, cayenne, and chipotle pepper.  It was a big hit with visitors.  The other half I flavored with an olive oil and Italian herb marinade.  This was tasty, too, but oily and chewy like a dry sausage.  We enjoyed it with goat cheese and crackers.

The medium sized (smoked) pieces I divide into various gallon bags.  Some I leave plain smoked for who knows what future recipe.  (For example, I would like to flavor some as fajitas when I get some limes and my cilantro is ready to harvest).  Currently, I have flavored the rest with:
*  hoisin sauce and sesame oil (Mu Shu Bear - fantastic - see below),
*  rosemary, garlic, olive oil,
*  BBQ sauce (mine is 1/3 each of tomato paste, vinegar, birch syrup or molasses, with garlic, red pepper flakes and cumin),
* my husband's favorite sauce which may sound bizarre but if you like Thai food, you'll like it: 1/3 each of peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, enlivened with srirachi, garlic, and honey (from our hives).

These bags of smoked meats marinate for a day and then pop in the freezer for convenient retrieval and tasty future meals.

Because we have been rather indiscriminate in "butcher cuts", I assess the texture after I thaw it.  If the meat is a bit tough/chewy, I cook it again, briefly, in the pressure cooker, which is a magnificent way to tenderize meat quickly AND infuse the flavorings.  Doing this to the Mu Shu Bear recipe carmelized the sauce on the meat.  It was delectable and I will definitely repeat that recipe with some of the unadorned smoked bear awaiting its destiny as a culinary attraction.

May these notes inspire your own concoctions.  Spring bear is a worthy entree for lunch or dinner.

Bon Apetit!


  1. But first catch your bear! I've often thought that if people were made to eat what they shoot, they wouldn't be so quick to shoot and take pictures in the first place. We have a restaurant here that serves lion, but I've never heard of anyone who actually enjoyed it and wants it again. But they want that picture, oh yes they do.

  2. 😀 We don't have bear in Australia. But I was lucky enough to meet some Alaskans while driving across Canada and I sampled 'summer sausage' aka bear sausage. Later on our drive we saw some black bears up on the side of the road. They looked big hairy, and a little bit threatening. We didn't stop.

  3. Well I am a vegan and the idea of cooking and eating a bear does not figure even in my wildest dreams but nice to know about the experiments you do and try to come up with some thing new.

  4. Aw, this was a really good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to create a superb article… but what can I say… I
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  5. My wife googled your name, or business, and saw mention of living off the grid. Further searches located your wife's blog. We both spent hours (independently) reading the blog. Still a lot we haven't read yet, but I feel like we have gotten to know you quite a bit. Really a huge change for you two! I was interested enough to search land records, and even see your cabin on Trail Lake. I even found that there is 5 acres across the lake for sale. Not much chance of us actually becoming neighbors, but one can dream. I'd love to at least visit Alaska some day.

    Here in NJ we do have 18 chickens, a large garden, solar panels (26), and a small wind turbine, but we are definitely not off the grid! We also live on a lake (Bamber Lake), and have an A-frame house, that my father built in the early 60's. We have purchased additional lots, and now have over two acres, but we have neighbors much closer than you! Last winter we had barely enough snow to use a snow blower, but some years we can get two or three feet in a storm.

    We both look forward to reading more of you wife's blog. Please thank her for writing it!

    Best Regards, Bill and Diane