(image via Pixabay)
Lately, my curiosities have drifted East. I go to the Byzantine Catholic church now, and I’ve visited the beautiful formerly Russian Orthodox church near my house. I want to learn all about Ukraine and Russia and fascinating places like that. I’ve started Russian and Ukrainian lessons on Duolingo. I’m also keen to learn Russian and Ukrainian recipes to serve on special days. Thankfully, Chef Google is here to help.
The only thing I’d know previously about Eastern cuisine was that one of the first sentences in Duolingo’s Russian course was “Eto Koffe ili borscht?” which translates to “Is this coffee or beet soup?” That worried me. I don’t like beets. I was afraid I’d discover that the Russians put beets in their coffee, making it necessary to ask which was which at the morning buffet.
And then I found out that Russians eat bears.
I found a recipe for roast bear on a website so full of beautiful and unusual turns of phrase that it had to be authentically foreign. No one whose first language was English would say “You can’t feed Russian without a Kasha.” Kashas, by the way, are made with “all the possible groats,” but I’m still trying to figure out what a groat is. It’s usually buckwheat, but it seems it needn’t always be. I hope beets aren’t groats. Half of the recipes on the site look delicious– not just the various kashas, but the stroganoffs and the chicken dishes and the hearty soups. I would even eat the beets in some of these soups.
But then there was the bear recipe.
“I feel like if you are cooking bear,” said my friend who grew up on a farm, “The cooking is the easy part and you can wing it. Acquiring bear should have some directions attached.”
“Just be careful where you source the bear from,” said my friend from Alaska. “Bears that eat mostly salmon taste like salmon and are very oily. Bear that eat game and berries taste decent.”
Somehow I don’t think it matters what the Russian bear was eating, considering that the recipe calls for it to be marinated in vinegar, caraway seeds and “pepper peas” for ten hours. The bear could have eaten old tires. Or, you could save time and just marinate some old tires; after ten hours in vinegar and strong spice, no one will know the difference. Old tires would be easier to hunt in the Ohio Valley anyway. There’s a pile of them randomly stacked by the water tower just down the block.
Anyway, you must take 500 grams of “bear flesh,” which, according to Chef Google, is a little over a pound. It doesn’t say whether you should use light or dark meat, so choose your favorite. You must carefully wash the bear flesh and cover it with “pork lard pieces,” because bear meat does not have an abundance of its own fat. Then you marinate your pork and bear in the vinegar marinade for eight to ten hours, “turning regularly,” so I hope you weren’t planning to sleep all night. Maybe this is why the characters in Dostoevsky were always so dour. It wasn’t the vodka or the Russian winters, it was the fact that they’d been up all night marinating bear flesh.
When your bear flesh is marinated, salt it “if needed.” The recipe doesn’t say how you’d know. I don’t think raw bear is something you can nibble a corner of to see if it’s salty enough, but I could be wrong. Put your salted marinated larded bear flesh on a baking sheet, cover with “a little” of the marinade, but how much is none of our business because the recipe doesn’t say. Then drizzle it in melted butter and cook in a “well-heated oven” for two and a half hours. You must baste the bear in its juices “regularly,” so don’t you dare try to catch a nap while it’s cooking. You might want to pop in a frozen dinner, though, to eat while you’re waiting, because a single pound of flesh that’s been roasted for two and a half hours will yield to the tooth like a Russian army boot.
How hot is a well-heated oven, you ask? I have no idea. The recipe doesn’t set an oven temperature. I googled “what is a well-heated oven?” in case it was a culinary term, and Chef Google just gave me ads for buying a new gas range I can’t afford. Perhaps Russian ovens all have a special setting for “bear flesh.”
In any case, I don’t think I’ll be roasting a bear any time soon. Stroganovs and kashas are adventurous enough for me.