The French figured out how to make peasant food fit for a king – and this is that dish!
There clearly is resistance to bear on the table. I cannot say for sure exactly what or why that is. Maybe the warmth my friends still have for their childhood teddies remains too close to their hearts. Maybe there’s some other Disney-esque emotional attachment to bruins. There seems to be a barrier to cross before getting folks to sit down to a meal of bear. Even big-deer hunters hesitate when I announce that bear is being served.
Recently, when I served bear to close friends and first-time bear eaters, they were astounded at the deliciousness of my bear bourguignon.
Bear bourguignon is stew in a shirt and tie. Whatever hesitation came to the table completely disappeared when I placed a platter of bear bourguignon in front of my guests, along with a side of fresh, homemade egg noodles.
What follows are the directions for how to dress up the toughest cuts of bear to be the most delicious, mahogany, unctuous meal that goes perfectly over mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or corn polenta. It is a meal fit for a king. The funny thing about this recipe, I’m guessing, is that it was initially French peasant food. Burgundy produces some fine beef and wine. Perhaps the farmers were looking for a way to feed their families while using the toughest cuts of beef, and they used what was handy: mushrooms, carrots, onions, a few herbs, and wine. Those are the ingredients for bourguignon.
My hunting partner, Peter Hornett, is a fantastic cook. This bear bourguignon is his recipe. (I punched it into my iPhone notes section one late evening after a tremendous day hunting and a great bowl of bourguignon.) This meal has become part of our regular outfitter tent schedule throughout the year, and I look forward to him making it again this next hunt. We share meals, and while we do cook on the coal and wood stove, we try to plan and bring frozen blocks of deliciousness to simmer on the stove. Meanwhile, we unwind from the day’s hunt in a comfortable chair and catch up on the day, and other days we’ve enjoyed, to make adjustments to our plans for the following day. Peter’s bear bourguignon is part of our regular meal rotation, and it is delightful.
Here’s what I needed to make this dish:
- Two cutting boards—one for meat, one for vegetables
- Boning knife (to clear out the last of the silver skin and gristle)
- A chef’s knife for vegetable chopping
- A paring knife and vegetable peeler
- Wooden spoon
- Heavy 12” or larger frying pan (mine is a Lodge cast iron skillet)
- Heavy enamel Dutch Oven (6-quart with lid). (Mine is also Lodge)
- Garlic press
- Instant-read thermometer
3 pounds cubed bear, cut into 5” cubes (I used a round roast from the leg)
- Salt and pepper (to start the process and to finish the dish to taste)
- ½ pound of guanciale (substitute side bacon if needed)
- Large onion, diced fine
- Carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons of flour
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- Bottle of good burgundy wine
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ cup of water (for mushrooms)
- 4 cups mushrooms, quartered
- 8 ounces pearl onions, peeled and left whole
- A hand full thyme leaves
- Parsley for garnish
- Brown sugar (this is his secret ingredient, just a tablespoon or so changes the flavor profile of the whole dish––and it’s delightful.)
- 1 or 2 cups of water (as needed)
- Trim the bear roast and cut it into 5-2” cubes.
- Season meat well with coarse salt and coarse pepper and leave in the fridge for 2-24 hours to let the seasonings absorb.
- Prepare vegetables.
- Collect the ingredients turn the oven to 325 F.
- Cut the guanciale/bacon into matchsticks and start the frying pan on medium heat.
- When the guanciale is medium brown and crispy, remove it to a paper towel-covered plate. Leave the remaining fat in the pot to cook the bear.
- Turn the heat to high, and as soon as the fat starts to smoke, add a layer of bear cubes. Keep some space in the pan between the cubes. Sear the bear on all sides to a mahogany color—and cook it in batches. When done cooking, place the bear into the Dutch oven.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add butter, onions, carrot, and garlic to the frying pan. When the onions are translucent, sprinkle with flour, and stir well to absorb the salt. Add 750 milliliters (3 cups) of red wine, stir well to absorb the flour, and make a smooth sauce.
- Bring the mixture to a hard boil, turn off the heat, and pour the sauce over the bear cubes. Place the mixture (still in the Dutch oven) in the center of the oven and bake at 325 F, covered.
- Cook for 3 hours, checking and stirring well at the halfway point. Add water if required.
- Towards the end of the cooking time, heat the frying pan over medium heat; add olive oil, ½ cup of water, mushrooms, and pearl Bring the water to a boil and turn it down to a slow simmer. Cover. Stir the works every few minutes. The goal is to cook the water out of the mushrooms and brown the mushrooms and onions. When mushrooms and pearl onions are thoroughly cooked and well browned, pour the works into the Dutch oven about a ½ hour before you’re ready to serve the meal.
- Top bourguignon with freshly chopped parsley
- Serve on buttery and creamy mashed potatoes, corn polenta, or egg noodles.
- Eat like a king
Bear is such a versatile and delicious protein to cook with and to eat. The guests at my table are free with their praise when we serve bourguignon––even the folks who initially needed a little convincing to dive into a plate of bear meat. They found this delicious, and I hope you do, too.
Here is another look at the guanciale.
Render the fat from the guanciale (or bacon).
Sear bear cubes in fat until mahogany in color.
Diced onions, sliced carrots, and crushed garlic ready for the recipe.
Sauteed onions, garlic and carrots, ready for flour and red wine.
Enameled cast iron is perfect for this recipe.