There had been four shots all told, and whomever had fired them had not been sitting too far away me. The startled adrenaline was flowing as I quickly went through the mental mathematics on who it could have been, all the while readying my own rifle in case the deer came running past my stand.
It was a cool and calm November evening, the first we had experienced so far for the 2019 deer season, and I strained my ears for hooves thumping through leaves or the snapping of twigs that happen when fleeing whitetails move fast and heedlessly from danger. The reports had come with the cadence of an autoloading rifle, and that disqualified a few hunters in the group from being responsible, and only two or three hunters would be in the vicinity of where all the action was happening so I had my list of suspects fairly soon.
Calming down in the silent minutes after all the noise and having had nothing sprint through the hardwoods around me, I pulled out my phone and texted the group. No one that responded fessed up, so I went back to my business of peering through the woods as darkness descended around me. Before I even broke out of the woods and into the field surrounding the cabin, I could hear the stories being told.
Someone had seen some shooting, and I hoped to find a deer gutted and in the hanging tree. To my surprise though, we were soon talking about a bear, and the only man in camp holding a tag for one was my dad.
The tale was not without drama, and those details are for another day, but when all was said and done, I was happy for dad to get his bear, but I was most excited for the bear meat. I already had my mind well set on a special type of dish. Now, eating predators gets a bad wrap in some circles, and bears in general get their share of flack. But a truly wild bear, cooked correctly, is a rich and complex meat, and to the non-hunter it is not dissimilar to beef.
I have been fortunate enough to have had slow roasted bear, BBQ pulled bear, and bear burgers, and all were exceptional, and yes all were “beefy”, but they were also all deeper than that. I cannot find the word to exactly do the taste justice but heavy, musty, intense, and rich all come to mind, all with the most positive of meanings.
I have always thought that bear stew would be excellent, and I fiddled with Irish Bear Stew or maybe a Bear Brunswick Stew, and those would be excellent choices, but they were just too rough in my mind. As an experiment, I wanted something just slightly more refined, something still rustic but also elegant that would be a way to show that all those bold and concentrated bear flavours could be married with something luxurious and a cut above “stew”.
So, Black Bear Bourguignon became the plan. A once rural preparation of stewed onions mushrooms and beef that had been heightened by French masters, and in place of the beef, we were going to insert the bear. Was it as easy as throwing it in a slow cooker? No. Did it take more than half a day to make? Yes. Am I being a food snob? Maybe. But what matters most was that it was good, in fact it was better than good. It was both objectively and subjectively the best wild game dish I’ve ever eaten. The methodical process, the range of ingredients, and the patience needed all make it worth it, and the taste is something you need to experience to understand.
Shot a bear? Make this. It is worth all the efforts and really the bear deserves no less.
8 slices thick bacon, chopped
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 pound bear roast, cubed roughly
2 medium carrots, sliced into coins
1 medium white onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine (authenticity demands Burgundy or Beaujolais, get the real stuff, you won’t regret it)
3 to 4 cups beef stock
1 small can tomato paste
4 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled
24-30 pearl onions
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
Salt and pepper
- Cut the bacon into chunks and begin crisping them in a dutch oven or deep stock pot. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon, reserving the fat.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230C).
- Ensure the bear cubes are dried. Add the bear to the bacon fat and brown on all sides. Do this in small batches so that the bear meat browns and does not steam in a crowded pot. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside with the crisp bacon.
- In the same bacon (and now bear) fat, brown the carrot and sliced onion. Once done, pour out as much of the fat as you can.
- Return the bear and bacon to the pot on top of the vegetables and stir with salt and pepper to taste.
- Then sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the beef lightly. Set pot uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for five minutes.
- Stir the meat again and return to oven for four minutes or until the flour is just beginning to brown and make a crust on the meat.
- Remove the pot and turn oven down to 325 degrees F (160C).
- Pour in the wine and two to three cups beef stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
- Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
- Cover pot and return it to the oven. Let this simmers very slowly for four hours. The meat is done when you can tear it easily with a fork.
- Go have a glass of any of that wine that may be leftover. You’ve got time.
- When the bear meat has one hour left in the oven prepare the pearl onions and mushrooms.
- Heat one and a half tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil in a large pan until the butter is melted and bubbling.
- Add the onions and sauté over medium low heat browning them evenly.
- Add one half cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover and simmer slowly for 45 minutes until the onions are tender and the liquid has evaporated. If the liquid is gone but the onions are still not tender, add more stock and get back to simmering them.
- Set the onions aside, and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to bubble again, add the mushrooms. Brown them and then set them aside.
- When the meat is finished, strain the meat and vegetables, reserving all the cooking liquid.
- Put the bear, vegetables, mushrooms, and pearl onions back in the pot.
- Skim as much fat as you can off the cooking liquid, and then boil down the sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. The sauce should coat a spoon lightly when you are done. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper.
- Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the meat and vegetables. Simmer two to three minutes, stirring to coat the meat and vegetables with the sauce.
- Serve with crusty bread or pour over egg noodles.
- Dark beer or good red wine are mandatory when eating this.