Black Bear Bun Cha
On my travels through Hanoi Vietnam, my favourite meal was Bun Cha. Grilled meatballs with fresh herbs on vermicelli with “special” dipping sauce. Special, because every family’s dipping sauce is a bit different highlighting the sweet, the sour, or the savoury of the sauce. Traditionally this dish is made with ground pork. I use the much leaner ground game meat and add about 1/3 ground pork. The pork adds fat and acts as a binder for the meatballs. This recipe features black bear meat which has a much higher fat content than venison, so you can skip the adding pork. However, the pork still helps create a binding effect and a more resilient meatball. So if you have a bit of pork, then throw it in, or skip it and enjoy the bear meat on its own.
During my Southeast Asian travels, I took several cooking classes. Partly to learn to cook so much of my favourite foods, and also to research how best to offer EatWild cooking classes. By far the best experience was with Chef Son Tran at the Herbs and Spices Cooking School in Hoi Ann. This recipe is based on his teaching, technics and recipe.
Ingredients for meatballs:
- 1.5 lbs of ground black bear meat or (1 lbs venison/elk/moose & 1/3 lbs pork)
- 2 Tbs of finely chopped spring onions
- 3 Tbs of finely chopped shallots
- 2 tsp of finely chopped garlic
- 1 Tbs of fish sauce
- 1.5 tsp of chicken stock paste (any dry stock)
- 1/2 tsp of white pepper
- 2 tsp of maple syrup or Chef Tran’s simple syrup with star anise (see below)
Dipping sauce prep:
- 1/3 C fish sauce
- 1/3 C apple cider or rice
- 1/3 C Chef’s Tran’s Simple Syrup or dissolved sugar in water
- 1/3 C water
- 1/2 tsp of each – super finely chopped red chillies, garlic and ginger
Combine ingredients and set aside.
Prep noodle and garnish for bun cha bowl:
- 200 grams of cooked vermicelli (to keep them from overcooking, rinse in cold water after they come out of the boiling water)
- 1 cup of fresh bean sprouts
- 1 cup of julienned cucumber
- 1/2 cup of julienned carrot
- 1 cup of mint leaves
- 1 cup of Vietnamese/Thai basil
- 2 cups of broken/chopped lettuce
Method for meatballs:
In a large stainless mixing bowl, add the ingredients. Mix the ingredients with your hands. Unlike Italian meatballs, which you should mix lightly for a fluffy result, Bun Cha meatballs are denser. Mix meat aggressively by throwing the mix of meat against the side of the bowl. You are trying to work the air out of the meat mix and combine the flavours. If you are using pork, you will feel the proteins activate and start to bind the meat, as you mix the meat. It will progressively become more sticky and bound together. Game meat and bear meat is less inclined to bind like this so you will need to be more careful when forming and cooking the balls.
Make the Bun Cha patties by rolling meat balls in your hands and then pressing them into patties that are 3-4 cm in diameter and 1 cm thick.
Grill on the BBQ or sear in the cast iron pan. Cook for about 7 minutes per side. You must use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat has reached a safe cooking temperature to kill any potential for trichinosis to persist. Health Canada recommends 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Hank Shaw provides an excellent overview of cooking bear meat and suggests that bear meat may be safe to eat at 145 degrees Fahrenheit based on recent research. Hank Shaw on trichinosis and bears.
Chef Tran’s Simple Syrup:
On slow heat, mix 200g brown cane sugar, 1 cinnamon stick and 5 star anise in a saucepan. Slowly add 180 ml of water until the mixture turns brown and thickens. A versatile mix that’s perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. Be sure to keep it in the fridge and use sparingly (from Herbs and Spices>Recipes).
Serve & Enjoy:
Serve the grilled patties in bowls on vermicelli noodles. Garnish liberally with veggies and herbs. Pour some of the dipping over everything and serve. Have a small bowl of dipping sauce on the side to dip the bites as you enjoy.
Eat well and wild,