For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I have seen two references to the use of bear fat in baked goods in the past week.
You see, my husband, yes he of dyed black dreadlocks and floor-length velvet coats in high school, has, over the past fifteen or so years, morphed into a fantasy football-obsessed, Skoal dipping, pseudo jock/redneck. Yes, of course he still loves death metal and old punk rock and 90’s drum and bass and – occasionally – twenty year old goth and industrial music. But for the most part, he’s become nearly a completely different person that the one I first started dating in 1996. One who enjoys smoking his own pork shoulder or beef brisket in our charcoal grill on the porch and who is the proud owner of a jacked-up four-wheel-drive Jeep and the not-so-proud owner of a badass 80’s van (which, by the way, I love and think is rad – down to the cushy, faded burgundy faux-shag carpet and the “mood lighting”). One who somehow convinced me to give up my RAI Italia channel, which was the only place on tv I could catch AS Roma soccer matches and see my current crush, striker Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, play (sometimes, when we wasn’t being benched for staying out too late and partying with Daniele de Rossi) in favor of a Sports subscription that included all manner of college football, martial arts and fishing channels.
But apparently, all those extra channels weren’t what my husband was after. Since we got the new tv package, our television has been stuck on one channel and one channel only – The Sportsman Channel. Yes, each evening, rather than turning on the nightly news or Jeopardy, my husband flips to The Sportsman Channel and we get to watch shows about sitting in tree stands for eight hours and occasionally get to see an actual animal get taken out. You see, the shows on The Sportsman Channel have somewhat of a formula: five to seven minutes spent discussing the preparations for the hunt – from the best suppliers of doe estrus (female deer piss, you guys!), to the wide array of hunting weaponry from which to choose, to the dispute over whether to use actual deer antlers from a previous kill to rub together, or whether to use plastic fakes you bought from Bass Pro. This is typically followed by a full forty minutes of footage of men sitting in tree stands or blinds whispering as they watch various deer or other animals walk past them. “Oh, he’s a big ‘un,” is a common epithet. “Look at that rack!,” is another. Then, when you check the clock and realize that there is absolutely no way they will be able to actually show a deer kill in the remaining four minutes, at least two minutes of which will be sprinkled with commercials for rifles and salt licks and boot warming insoles, KA-BLAM! Out of nowhere, you hear a gunshot and a deer (or elk, or duck, or bear, or turkey) goes down.
This was obviously getting monotonous to me, although my husband and son found it awesome. Then my husband listened to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast with a guest named Steven Rinella, who has a show on The Sportsman Channel called Meat Eater. On his show, Steve captures all parts of the hunting experience, much as he and most hunters try to use all parts of the animals they kill. Besides hunting footage that is actually enjoyable to watch for a grown woman who has no interest in going hunting, Steve also brings his kill back to his house and prepares various dishes that look to be quite delicious. Cue the bear fat.
In a recent episode, Steve visited Alaska, where he hunted the apparently elusive black bear. Triumphant in the kill, he field dressed the bear, then rendered the bear fat over a wood fire. This piqued my interest, as he was using preparation methods that have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years. And then, in his Thanksgiving Cooking Special, he did something that really made me love his show: he made a venison mincemeat pie with a crust made from bear fat. And a wild turkey galantine. For those not well-versed in French food and historic cookery, a galantine is “a French dish of de-boned stuffed meat, most commonly poultry or fish, that is poached and served cold, coated with aspic.” (from the Wikipedia). Oh, and he smoked a black bear ham in his backyard smoker. And immediately, I was a Steve Rinella fan. Then I found out he has written books, including one called “The Scavengers Guide to Haute Cuisine”, wherein his “obsession with a 100-year old cookbook leads him on a fascinating journey into the American wilderness.” This dude is speaking my language!
There is also merch (like the awesome Meat Eater t-shirt with the sweet logo) and gear, for those inclined to actually go out into the wilderness and do hunting type things with it. Not for me. But I will watch this dude cook dishes right out of vintage cookbooks any day of the week.
Oh, and that other reference to bear fat? Mark, redneck hunter extraordinaire of Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners, remarked in a nearly unintelligible Southern drawl (and that’s saying a lot for a girl born and raised in the South!), that pies made with bear fat crusts are the best pies you’ll ever eat. So yeah, if anyone has some spare bear fat laying about, I’d love to give it a go and make some pies with it. I’ll bake an extra one just for you!