What does bear meat taste like?
If you Google the question, you'll get a variety of answers. " It can be gamy and greasy." "Hard to describe." "It tastes a little like beef and a little like pork."
Over the years, I've tried just about every wild critter Maine has to offer. Only two turned me off. One dish used ground beaver burger. I found it nauseatingly sweet. And one time at deer camp on Pearl Pond of Ebeemee, Bud Leavitt, the late outdoor writer for the Bangor Daily News, concocted a thin soup from the meat of a snapping turtle. Ugh. It was dreadful. Sorry, Bud.
Bear meat? My experience with bear meat has been positive. My wife Diane killed a small sow bear a few years back. We cooled the meat quickly and butchered it meticulously, making sure to trim all fat from the cuts. The roasts were excellent table fare and the burger made wonderful lasagna! We once served a bear lasagna to an unsuspecting dinner guest who had always refused adamantly to EVER consume wild game. She swooned over the lasagna and, to this day, is none the wiser.
Bear meat's bad rap no doubt stems from improper meat handling. Or, perhaps, in a few isolated cases, the "bad" bear was the product of a poor diet. As omnivores, bears are opportunistic feeders.
This year at deer camp, the Skulkers of Seboeis head chef, Dana Young, prepared a bear meat loaf as one of the main courses served up at our 43rd Annual Game Dinner. It was a big hit. In fact, I can recall no other wild game dish that has evoked so many bug-eyed superlatives from the skulker huntsmen.
The recipe follows. Since it has never before been written down, and was "extracted" from the cook's next-day recollection of how he assembled this culinary lashup, you'll have to wing it on some of the amounts. Play around with it. I tried it last week using two pounds of elk burger and three store-bought sweet Italian sausage. It was very good, but not as good as the real McCoy. (Too much sausage).
Dana's Bear Meat Loaf
2 pounds ground bear meat
1/2 lb sweet bear sausage
lightly sauteed onions and mushrooms
milk-soaked white bread (squeeze out the milk and break up the bread)
pepper & salt
1/2 cup shredded cheese of choice
1/4 package of Lipton Onion Soup mix
Mix all of the ingredients, except the Lipton Onion soup mix, (estimated amounts) in a bowl and form into a large ball. Dust the outside of the ball with flour. In a large cast iron skillet, partially flatten the meatball and brown on both sides in oil. Keeping the meatball in the skillet, sprinkle with the 1/4 package of Lipton Onion soup mix. Add a quarter cup of water and a few carrots, potatoes and pieces of raw onions along side the meat loaf in the skillet. Cover the skillet with aluminum foil and bake for an hour plus in a 350 degree oven. Remove the foil after an hour of cooking to check the doneness of the vegetables. If more cooking is required, remove the foil and put the dish back in oven for desired amount of cooking time.
* Recipe also ideal for bear meatballs. Eliminate the flouring.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He isalso a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his new book is "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook."