June 01, 2021
Living in Nebraska, bear meat is difficult to come by. Fortunately, my friend and colleague Christy Christiansen, who is an outdoor educator at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, went bear hunting with her husband, “Shorty,” this past summer in Saskatchewan, and they each harvested a couple of young black bears. We bartered in hunter-gatherer fashion, and I scored a pretty black bear roast to bring home.
Bear bourguignon has a nice ring to it, as does boeuf bourguignon, the classic French dish that translates to beef Burgundy – beef cooked in red Burgundy wine. This recipe was great with bear, which I found rich and flavorful, not unlike other wild red meats I’ve tried.
For a recipe that requires slow cooking, choose a roast that has a lot of sinew and silver skin in it. All that gristle will soften, leaving an unctuous texture that a solid, lean piece of meat— such as backstrap – won’t give you. There was also a bit on fat on the roast, which I left. This bear must’ve had a decent diet, because I detected no off-putting flavors. This was my first time preparing and eating bear, and I give it a 10/10.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2.5 to 3 hours
- 2 pounds of bear roast, silver skin left on
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 6 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 5 tablespoons flour
- ½ cup brandy
- 1 quart unsalted/low sodium beef stock (or bear stock)
- 2 cups red burgundy wine or other dry red wine
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 sprigs fresh parsley
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 rib of celery, cut in half
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 package cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1-2 tablespoons butter
- Kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut bear roast into medium-size cubes and toss with about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, preferably cast iron, add the chopped bacon and turn the heat up to medium; render the bacon fat and remove bacon bits and set aside.
- Turn heat up to medium-high and brown the bear meat in the bacon grease, in batches, for a nice crust. Return all the cooked bear meat to the pot, the bacon and add chopped onion and carrots. Lower heat to medium and stir for 5-7 minutes, or until the onion turns translucent.
- Add the tomato paste and flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then pour in the brandy and allow it to evaporate almost entirely. Next pour in burgundy wine and allow it to reduce by half, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the brown bits. Add 1 quart of stock and bring to a low boil.
- While the stock is heating, make your “bouquet garni” by sandwiching the cloves of garlic between the two pieces of celery, bunching up the parsley and thyme around it, and securing with kitchen twine. Add this to the pot along with 1 bay leaf. (If you don’t have kitchen twine, you can just throw in all the ingredients and fish them out later. You don’t have to discard the garlic.)
- Cover the pot with foil, then lay the lid on top; the foil helps to slow down evaporation/moisture loss. Cook in a 350-degree oven for 1½ hours.
- Meanwhile, heat butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Brown mushrooms in batches for a golden color on both sides. Set aside.
- After 1½ hours, discard the foil, stir in the browned mushrooms, replace the lid, and continue cooking for another hour or so in the oven, or until the bear meat becomes tender and the liquid turns into a gravy-like consistency.
Note: If you find that you’re losing too much liquid too quickly, add more water or stock at the 1-½-hour mark as needed. If the gravy is still too loose after 2 ½ hours of cooking, simmer the stew uncovered on your stove over low heat to thicken, stirring often.
- Discard the herbs, season to taste and serve over hot mashed potatoes.