Brown Bear Claw Marks on Clay Bank: The Trail to Clarks River near Chignik Lake, Alaska
With two lakes, a river and numerous small streams that draw hundreds of thousands of spawning salmon each year, Alaska’s Chignik River watershed is home to a dense population of some of the largest bears in the world.
No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.
Jack Kerouac – Lonesome Traveler, 1960
– Although Kerouac’s (1922-1969) Lonesome Traveler didn’t achieve the acclaim of On the Road, The Dharma Bums or even Big Sur, the short story “Alone on a Mountaintop” by itself makes it worth diving into.
Elk roasts liberally rolled in freshly cracked pepper and slow cooked with sweet onions, baby Yukon Gold potatoes and the chef’s choice of additional vegetables is an appealing meal that can be prepared virtually anywhere. Recipe below.
Over the years we’ve become big fans of Swiss Diamond cookware. Covered eggs cooked over very low heat in their non-stick frying pans are a revelation. Nothing sticks, and as long as the manufacturer’s instructions regarding overly high heat are followed, the surface on this cookware remains in excellent condition through years of regular use.
My favorite Swiss Diamond pan is their big, 12.5 inch frying pan. We call it The Wagon Wheel and it’s perfect for everything from baking a pizza to frying fish to slow cooking a roast in in the oven. The challenge with a pan this large is fitting it into some ovens – such as the one on our Lance truck camper. In fact, even storing a pan of this size in a camper is no mean feat.
So I removed the handle. Permanently. It’s around somewhere, safely tucked away along with the hardware used to attach it. On the camper, we don’t need the handle. Oven mitts suffice.
The elk roasts were a gift from a friend. The recipe is uncomplicated. The finished meal is hearty and has great eye appeal – the perfect meal with a glass of old vine Zinfandel on a rainy evening in Seward, Alaska.
Braised Elk Roast
- 1 pound elk rump roast or similar cut from wild game or beef
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped coarse
- whole small potatoes
- other vegetables as desired: parsnips, carrots, brussels sprouts, garlic cloves, mushrooms and even chunks of pumpkin or squash are all good candidates
- olive oil
- freshly cracked pepper
- sea salt
- sherry or red wine
- additional seasonings such as rosemary, sage or thyme, if desired
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. (Our camper oven only turns down to 300 degrees F – a little hotter than perfect, but still fine.)
- Heat light olive oil or similar frying oil over sufficiently high heat to create a sizzle when the meat hits the pan. Sear the meat on all sides. Use tongs to hold the meat if necessary. About 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove meat and set aside.
- Lower heat on pan to medium low. Deglaze pan by adding sherry or wine and use a spatula to gently scrape the brown fond created during searing. Slightly reduce liquid over medium to medium-low heat.
- Meanwhile place seared roast in a bowl. Roll the roast in olive oil, salt and freshly cracked pepper to give the roast a coating.
- Add additional olive oil to the pan as necessary. Add onions and other vegetables along with salt and pepper, stirring briefly to thoroughly coat with oil. Add the meat, cover the pan with a lid, and place in oven.
- Cook covered for an hour for a small roast, longer for a larger roast. Add additional wine or a little water to maintain a broth on bottom of pan, if necessary.
Tasty, quick, easy and attractive, beef (or wild game) and broccoli is a dish almost nobody doesn’t like. Here’s our twist on a classic favorite.
More than half-way through our year in the Arctic, our freezers remain abundantly stocked with Alaskan seafood and wild game. Featured in this dish is a lean, tender cut of Sitka black-tailed deer. Asian-style stir fry such as this is perfect for days when you want something quick but delicious.
Most recipes for this dish call for corn starch. For a cleaner taste and presentation while still achieving the thick broth desired for this dish, try substituting rice flour for the corn starch. A generous drizzle of sesame oil toward the end of cooking really brings this dish together. As we live far from a well-stocked grocer, we used powdered seasonings.
Venison Broccoli Stir Fry
Ingredients: (for two servings)
- 1/2 pound lean, tender wild game or beef, cut into slender 2″ strips
- 1 tbsp rice flour + 1/2 tbsp rice flour, separated (or use corn starch)
- 1 tbsp water
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- a scant 1/2 tsp powdered garlic
- 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 3/4 cup onion, chopped very coarse
- frying oil such as light olive oil
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- sesame oil
- 1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
- In a bowl, combine venison strips, 1 tbsp rice flour, water, olive oil, garlic and ginger. Mix thoroughly so that each meat strip is thoroughly coated with mixture. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce and brown sugar. Set aside.
- In a wok or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add venison, stirring continuously for about 2 – 3 minutes to sear and lightly cook through. Remove venison to a bowl and set aside.
- Add a little more oil to the pan and add the onions. Stirring frequently, cook until onions just begin turning translucent but are still fairly crunchy. Add broccoli and continue stir frying till broccoli begins to turn bright green, adding a little more oil if necessary.
- Add venison, sesame oil, sesame seeds and brown sugar and soy sauce mixture, stirring quickly to thoroughly mix ingredients together. Cook just long enough to reheat venison.
- Serve immediately on a bed of steaming rice.
From San Francisco to Sydney and from Tokyo to Toronto, Beef Stroganoff is a popular dinner item. Here’s a twist on a classic favorite.
Ever since its origination in 19th century Russia, Stroganoff has been served to rave reviews. Early iterations were created with beef cubes and and early written recipe for the sauce included mustard. Mushrooms and onions came later. These days, cubes have largely given way to thin strips of meat and mustard is considered optional by many cooks.
I’d not made Stroganoff till recently. Happy to fill requests, I put some caribou we’d recently been given to good use. The Stroganoff came out can’t-stop-eating-it good and we and our guests made short work of it. But even as I was simmering the sauce, I knew next time I’d add tarragon.
In our view, the addition of this herb really brought the dish alive. Other than that, be gentle with additional flavors, including garlic. This dish is about meat and mushrooms.
- 1 pound caribou cut into thin strips, about 1/4″ x 1″ (or use similar meat game such as elk, venison or lean beef)
- 1/2 cup beef broth. (Excellent broth can be made using Better than Bouillon)
- 3/4 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 pound mushroom caps, sliced thin (Shitake mushrooms are a good choice. Here in bush Alaska, we use dried mushrooms.)
- 1/2 large onion, sliced thin
- 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
- 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp flour, separated into equal portions
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil separated into equal portions
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
- In a bowl, combine Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sour cream, heavy cream, a few grinds of pepper and tarragon. Set aside.
- Place caribou strips in a large bowl. Add 1 tbsp flour and a few grinds of fresh pepper and mix ingredients so that meat is coated.
- In a large pan over medium heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil. When oil is hot enough to cause a drop of water or a pinch of flour to sizzle, add the meat. Stir and turn meat frequently to ensure all sides are seared. When meat is cooked through (about 5 minutes), place in a bowl and set aside.
- Pour pan juices into a bowl and set aside to cool.
- Wipe pan with a paper towel (to remove pieces of meat that might burn). Add 1 tbsp olive oil and butter, heat over medium heat, and add the onions. Stir frequently. After about two minutes, add the mushrooms and garlic and sprinkle the pan’s contents with flour, reducing heat if necessary. Continue to cook and stir just till onions begin to become translucent (about 5 minutest total).
- Return the meat to the pan. Thoroughly mix ingredients together and add the beef broth. Cover and simmer over low heat till broth is well reduced (cooked down) – about 15 to 30 minutes.
- Combine pan juices with sour cream mixture and stir into the pan. Heat to piping hot (but do not boil) and serve over fettucini, other pasta, or rice.
Serve with fall vegetables and a gin and tonic with a wedge of lime.
With big bright eyes, one of my students announced that his dad had gotten a polar bear. He insisted that I call his dad so I could go see it. So, right after school, Jack and I headed out to talk to the hunter. The previous day he had been out seal hunting a few miles south of Shishmaref and had seen lots of polar bear tracks. He found one of the bears and proudly came home with the fourth polar bear in his lifetime. Telling the story, he concluded with a smile, “My daughters have already put in orders for ruffs!”
The skin was laid out, its mylar-like hair glistening in the sun by his home. It was easy to see why polar bear hair was once a highly valued material for fly-tying. But for how silky the fur looked, it felt surprisingly coarse to touch. The paws, of course, were huge, and the foot pads were thick and tough and leathery. Stroking the fur and foot pads with our bare hands, we felt a connection to the vast miles of ice this bear had traveled, the arctic cold and wildness, the remoteness of this place.