There are many reasons why black bears hold ground as my number one choice for hunting. For starters, they are super intelligent and craftier than other big game animals so pursuing them is always an exciting challenge. The main reason, though, is that if I don’t set my sights on the big old bruin of my dreams during the autumn hunt, I always have the comfort of knowing I’ll get a second shot at bagging him when the spring season rolls around. After a long winter of being cooped up indoors, the opening of the spring bear season is the best excuse there is for packing up and taking off into the greening woodlands to set up camp.
Of course, when I sit down to a supper of bear I’m fast to admit that the ultimate reward of a successful hunt is the delicious bounty of meat it dishes up for the larder. Tender, tasty bear meat is well-suited for almost any recipe calling for red meat, be it game or domestic. I say almost because bear, like pork, must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F (71 C) to safeguard against trichinosis. The old rule I follow is to choose recipes that call for cooking to a proper degree of doneness.
This recipe is ideal because the meat is sliced into very thin strips and stir-fried over high heat in a wok, which ensures every bite is cooked to perfection. I came up with this mouthwatering creation simply by substituting bear into a traditional recipe for Szechwan beef – and not much else had to be changed but the name!
Szechwan, as it’s commonly spelled in North America (or Sichuan, as it’s rightfully spelled in its homeland), is the unique cuisine of the Sichuan Province of southwestern China, famous for its spicy, bold dishes that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the taste buds. This authentic recipe calls for Szechwan (Sichuan) peppercorns, which have a refreshing lemony flavour that causes the “tongue to tingle”. They are not as hot or as pungent as regular black peppercorns. You can usually find them whole or ground wherever Asian foods are sold. If you don’t have any on hand, black peppercorns or pepper can be used, but reduce the measure a little. And keep in mind, this dish is equally delicious when made with any member of the venison family. All you have to do is change the name of the game and the ingredients stay the same!
Szechwan Bear Ingredients:
1 pound bear steak
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons cooking oil
3 cloves sliced garlic
1 piece of daikon (Chinese radish) or turnip
1 red pepper
1 orange or yellow pepper
1 thinly sliced chili pepper (if desired)
½ cup sliced water chestnuts
1 small bok choy, coarsely chopped
3 thinly sliced green onions
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons rice wine or cooking sherry
1 teaspoon chili oil
¾ teaspoon ground Szechwan peppercorns
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Mix sauce ingredients in small bowl and set aside. Slice meat into thin, bite-sized strips. This is easier to do if the steak is only partially thawed. Sprinkle with soy sauce and set aside to finish thawing and to marinate, about 20 minutes. Cut the carrots, peppers and daikon (or turnip if using) into matchsticks (julienne cut). Heat the oil in wok over high setting. Add garlic and quickly swish about. Add meat and stir-fry until no traces of pink are showing. Add prepared vegetables and continue stir-frying until vegetables are tender and meat is cooked through. Add sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thick and clear. I usually serve this dish with steamed rice or cooked rice noodles on the side along with a little bowl of sesame seeds for sprinkling over top. Although red wine usually goes best with red meats, for this dish I find a crisp white wine is a good choice for toasting the feast. Serves 4.