Is there a more contentious game meat than bear?
The modern stigma that surrounds the consumption of this well documented staple (historically speaking) of many Northern Hemisphere diets—Canada, USA, Russia, and many Scandinavian countries to name a few—is awash in hyperbole and misinformation.
“They’re full of worms!”
“You’ll get trichinosis!”
“They taste like rotting fish!”
“You feed that to your kids!”
The truth is, like any meat, the edibility, flavor and palatability of bear meat will be highly dependent on the environment it came from, the handling practices of the meat itself, and of course, how it’s prepared.
If people were to put the same effort into researching the culinary history of bear meat as they do posting their disgust and outrage about it on social media, they might be surprised by its prevalence and acceptance around the world. Siberian bear pelmeni (dumplings), Slovenian bear goulash, Finnish canned bear (basically bear Spam) …I could go on. I even found an article on The Atlantic website titled Bear: A Meat Worth Trying.
To be clear, there are precautions that need to be taken in terms of trichinosis and not all bears will taste the same. But a quick online search for the CDC or Mayo Clinic trichinosis prevention guidelines will keep you safe. But the same applies for chicken and pork you buy at the grocery store.
As for taste, it’s not complicated. A deer (or cow) that lives on a diet of corn, soybeans, acorns and alfalfa is going to taste very different from a different deer (or cow) that lives on free-range grasses and forbs. It follows that a mountain or forest dwelling bear that lives off the typically omnivorous and seasonal diet of grasses, forbs, berries, deer/moose/elk calves, small mammals like marmots, and carrion will most likely make for great table fare. A bear that feeds heavily on dead and decaying migrating salmon, may not.
I am good friends with numerous chefs that hunt and many have come to love black bear meat for its versatility, and frankly, availability. Black bears are plentiful across much of North America and represent a quality source of organic protein when taken from the appropriate habitats at the appropriate time of year and handled with care (like any meat).
When working on this article, I reached out to one these chef buddies of mine and asked, out of curiosity, what his favourite bear recipe was, hoping he’d provide an example of the versatility of bear meat. He didn’t bat an eye: bear curry. Having tried his bear curry recipe before, I wasn’t surprised. My entire family loved this dish.
So, below you’ll find his recipe and instructions for preparing this meal, and to be clear, bear is not necessary. You can substitute the bear for lamb, bison, beef or any wild game for that matter. The best cuts to use would be a braising cut like neck or shoulder.
*Recipe and Photos Credit Connor Gabbott
1” Diced bear meat 3.5lbs
Vegetable oil as needed
Onions 2 (medium size)
Garlic cloves 6
Ginger One 4-inch piece
Thai bird chilies 2 (based on personal preference)
Bay leaves, dry 2
Curry powder 2 Tablespoons
Cumin powder 1 Tablespoon
Turmeric powder 2 Teaspoons
Low sodium chicken stock 2 Liters
Diced tomatoes 1 can (400ml)
Sour cream ¼ cup (don’t buy the light version)
Salt 2 Tablespoons (personal preference, could be 2-3 tablespoons)
Water As needed
- In a large heavy bottom pot, heat up a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat until the oil spits and pops when you put a piece of meat in.
- Once the oil is hot, scatter a single layer of diced bear meat over the bottom of the pot and allow it cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes or until the meat is brown on one side. See the picture below showing how much meat goes in the pot at one time and the amount of browning you want on the meat.
- Flip the meat over and brown the other side. Adjust the heat if necessary so that the meat is slowly browning and not burning.
- Take the meat out of the pot and repeat the browning steps with the rest of the meat in batches.
- When you remove the meat place it into a strainer so that the excess oil has a chance to fall off.
- Wipe the excess oil out of the pot with a paper towel or if the pot is burnt on the bottom wash the pot
- Place a couple more tablespoons of fresh vegetable oil into your clean pot and put it back on medium heat.
- When the oil is hot again, put your chopped onions into the pot and cook while stirring them until the edges start to brown. About 5-10 minutes depending on the heat. See the picture below for what to look for.
- Add in your chopped ginger, garlic, bay leaves and chilies and cook while stirring for 2 minutes.
- Add in the spices and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken stock and the bear (or other) meat to the pot, turn the heat to high and bring it to a simmer. Take a minute to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pot so these don’t burn as the curry cooks.
- Simmer the curry for 2½ – 3 hours or until the meat is tender when you eat it. If the meat becomes exposed as the sauce reduces, add some water to keep the meat covered the entire time
- Once the meat is tender, add in the can of diced tomatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and mix in the salt and the sour cream until it dissolves.
- Taste the curry and adjust the salt and spices to your taste. The finished curry should look like the picture below.
About Curtis Adams
Curtis is a jack of all trades and master of none. He is a freelance writer, film maker and avid outdoorsman that calls B.C. home, and is a sought-after ghost writer in the cooking, branding, and business community. He doesn’t use social media.