What to do with this meat? In the kitchen, the most important thing you need to know about bear is that it is the single biggest vector for trichinosis in North America. No one gets trichinosis from domestic hogs anymore, but they sure do from wild boar, bear and, oddly, walrus.
To kill trichinae parasites you need to hit at least 135 degrees and hold it there for a long time, at least an hour. Safer to get the meat up to 145 to 150 degrees, which is medium—still pink, by the way. Ignore the old warnings about 180 degrees and such. I do plan a bear dish cooked medium, but that's another post. I thought I'd start with something traditional.
Behold Siberian pelmeni, pretty dumplings widely eaten all over Russia. To me, no culture screams "bear" more than Russia. A look through the 1935 edition of The Derrydale Game Cookbook turns up Bear Steak Czar Alexandre, Breast of Bear in Sour Cream, Russian Braised Bear Liver, and the memorably named Fillet of Bear a la Zinoff. Unfortunately, none of these dishes would work with what Cork gave me. But then I started reading about pelmeni, sourdough dumplings filled with all sorts of things.
Like bear meat. Apparently the oldest pelmeni were made with onions and bear meat (or venison) and frozen outside in the snow to be eaten on the trail by, you guessed it, bear hunters. Perfect!
I used this recipe as a guide, although lacking whey I used buttermilk instead to make the dough. I also used a mixture of King Arthur white-wheat flour and spelt flour because I wanted a rustic, rough-hewn look to the dumplings. I mixed the flour and buttermilk, covered it and let it sit on the counter for 48 hours. It could have probably sat for another day, but it was reasonably sour nonetheless.
Holly A. Heyser
As for my pelmeni filling, I ground two pounds of the bear meat, mixed it with a pound of my basic bacon, added pepper, a little salt, a little garlic, and lots of onion. Onion seems to be a constant in pelmeni filling.
The dumplings are traditionally made by rolling the dough into a snake, then cutting off a walnut-sized piece and rolling it flat with a pin. Uh, no? I used my pasta maker instead, rolling the dough just midway—it's supposed to be about 1/16 of an inch thick. Way easier.
I cut two-inch circles from the dough with a cutter and in went a scant tablespoon of the filling. You fold the circle over into a fat half-moon, then pinch the edges to make a gigantic tortelloni.
Since the bear was raw I boiled the dumplings for a good six to seven minutes, which was plenty. Sometimes they are served in broth, but apparently the Siberians think this is in poor taste. Sometimes they are fried after boiling, but most often pelmeni are simply served boiled with sour cream; I added lots of dill to mine.
First bite? Juicy, rich, earthy, and savory, with a twang of something that said, "I am not beef." Holly and I thought it reminded us of the wonderful yak meat momos we'd eaten at a Tibetan restaurant in Minnesota years ago. No strong odor, no off taste. This was some damn good bear.