A bagged brown bear in Alaska.
In response to the rising bear population of northeastern New Jersey, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection authorized a six-day bear hunt this year, commencing on December 6. State biologists predicted that as many as 400 cubs would be born next January, adding to an existing estimated population of 3,400, if a hunt was not authorized to thin the ranks. During the most recent hunt, in 2005, 298 bears were killed by hunters.
So let’s say you take rifle in hand and go hunting. What if you bag a bear? The ethical thing to do is get all your friends together and have a big bear barbecue.
While eating bear sounds unspeakably exotic (or unspeakably repulsive) to many of us, bear was a staple on the menus of early restaurants in New York. Of the bear’s flesh, Peter Lund Simmonds wrote in 1859 in The Curiosities of Food, “In North America, bears’ flesh was formerly considered equal to pork, the meat having a flavor between beef and pork; and the young cubs were considered the finest eating in the world.”
Simmonds further rhapsodized about bear, quoting one Dr. Brooke: “The fat is as white as snow, and extremely sweet and wholesome, for if a man drinks a quart of it at a time, when melted, it will never rise in his stomach.” Hunters, take this tidbit of information to heart, and if you happen to bag a bruin on a cold day in December, hack off some fat, render it over a campfire in a pan, pour yourself a quart or so, and take a glug!
In the 1964 edition of The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer gives a further reason for rendering the fat right away: “Remove all fat from the bear meat at once, as it turns rancid very quickly.” She goes on to note that all species of bear, except black bear, are edible, especially if marinated for 24 hours in an oil-based marinade. After that, the meat can be used in any stew recipe, requiring two and a half hours to cook a cub, and four hours for an older animal. Rombauer further cautions, “Bear, like pork, can carry trichinosis, so be sure the meat is always well cooked through.” Hunters — there’s another word to the wise: no bear carpaccio!
If you’ll let them, the bears will take over the whole state.
Indeed, before domesticated pigs became common in the Northeastern colonies, bear fat was the preferred medium for frying. When English Captain Frederick Marryat visited America in 1837, he seemed surprised at the use of bear fat, since he hated the taste of bear. He visited a New York game market during that trip and reported, “I have … seen at one time three hundred head of deer, with quantities of bear, raccoons, wild turkeys, geese, ducks, and every variety of birds in countless profusion.”
Bear was a common entrée at Delmonico’s, New York’s first real restaurant, founded downtown in a candy store by a Swiss immigrant in 1825, and serving principally French food. The favorite meat was cub steaks, of which Delmonico’s chef Charles Ranhofer notes in his 1894 cookbook, The Epicurean, “[B]ear’s meat when young can be broiled and after it is cooked has much the same flavor as beef.” Other popular cuts in New York restaurants of the 19th century included bear leg and bear paw — said to be the tenderest of all if properly marinated.
In 1842, a gala, five-course dinner given in honor of Charles Dickens was attended by 3,000 guests, and a prominent part of the third course — which also featured wild turkey, truffle-stuffed ducks, and saddle of venison — was roast bear. In the blog fourpoundsflour.com, Sarah Lohman gives a recipe for roasting bear, based on her experiments with meat received from hunters she knows from Alaska, where it’s legal to shoot bear just about any time.
Other recipes you can find online include bear chili, and bear jerky, and smoked bear barbecue — this source also waxes rhapsodic about bear grease, maintaining that the fat around the intestines is by far the tastiest.
Well, I hope that helps. Good hunting!
Next: The menu from Charles Dickens’ 1842 visit to New York City …