Alyssa Haak grew up in Wisconsin and remembers the day her dad served bear meat.
“Nope,” she said after one bite, pushing it aside. “Nope, I’m done.”
Haak admits that she was a pasta-with-butter kind of picky eater, but just the same, her reaction to bear was not unusual.
Today, even well-traveled palates such as blogger Hank Shaw admit to being a little squeamish about bear meat. Bear has a reputation for being gamey and greasy, and apparently, looks almost human when dressed and skinned. Get a bear who’s been eating berries, and it’s delicious, Shaw writes in a piece for TheAtlantic.com. But eat one who’s survived on salmon and you’ll get a mouthful of low tide.
Bear wasn’t always exotic. Shaw and others note that roasted bear was on the menu of many state dinners early in our nation’s history. In the 19th century, Charles Dickens apparently supped on roast bear during a dinner in his honor, according to the blog Four Pounds Flour. Bear was even considered relatively common game into the 1950s, Shaw writes, noting that the iconic 1947 cookbook Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking contains an entire section on bear.
Today, bear may be coming back. The United States is home to roughly 300,000 black bears, according to the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, and they inhabit at least 40 states. In many places, the population has been growing. Bears are prevalent even in densely populated states such as New Jersey, where they are sometimes known for getting into the garbage. More bears means more recipes. We’ve taken the one below from a guide distributed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
And what about Haak? The once-picky eater now lives in New York, where she dives into kale from her community-supported agriculture box and has been persuaded to try “ridiculous stuff” at the Vietnamese restaurant where she found a job (think duck tongue and black chicken, a bird whose skin, bones and flesh are actually black.)
So maybe Haak wasn’t picky after all. Maybe she was just ahead of her time.
— Text by Michele Kayal
— AFR video by Carol Hallowell
— Alyssa Haak is a media professional who writes about yachts at AlyssaHaak.com
This simple, hearty recipe for bear steak is adapted from the New Jersey Black Bear Recipe Guide (2011), published by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Please note that black bear meat can carry dangerous parasites, the department warns, and should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 for 3 minutes or longer to be safe. Cook until there is no trace of pink meat or fluid, the booklet says, paying close attention to areas around the joints and close to the bone.
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 pounds bear steak, cut 1-inch thick
- 4 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cups dark beer
- 1 bay leaf
Preheat the oven to 325 F. At the same time, place a large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. After 5 minutes, add the butter and oil.
In a large, plastic food-storage bag, combine flour, salt and pepper and shake well to mix. Place one steak into the bag and shake until coated. Remove steak from the bag and shake off excess flour. Place the steak into hot pan. Repeat until all the steaks are in the pan.
Brown each steak on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the meat from the pan and place into a casserole dish. Cover meat with the onions. Add the beer and bay leaf to the casserole.
Cover and bake for 2 ½ hours, until well done and tender.