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Bear and Venison Bun Cha Hanoi on the Red Boat

Posted on 16 August 2011 by Cork Graham

  

 When I first read about Red Boat on Ravenous Couples website, I was intrigued. I remembered fondly from my childhood in Saigon the pure fish sauce (nuoc mam) that was exported from the island of Phu Quoc to Saigon. My Saigonese friends would always laud it as the best. But, over the years, and only offered the same best option as everyone else outside of Vietnam, Three Crabs fish sauce, I forgot what made real nuoc mam so special.

That was until I exchanged emails with the owner of Red Boat Fish Sauce and learned we were only separated by the San Francisco Bay. When he offered to drop off some samples in person, I responded with an offer of lunch and a recipe adaptation I’d been playing around in mind with ever since I tried it at the restaurant owned by a friend who had escaped from Hanoi in the early 1980s. Called Loi’s, and now run by his sister, it’s still on Irving Street in San Francisco—serves the best North Vietnamese street cuisine in the city.

So, Red Boat owner, Cuong Pham and his director of sales and marketing, Robert Bergstrom, joined me for my experiment with bear and deer meat. First, though, I had to make a comparison. Before opening the bottle, we read the ingredients label: Red Boat has only salt and anchovy extract; Three Crab has anchovy extract, water, salt, fructose, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Red Boat is the real deal!

 Then, I poured into a small tasting bowl. It’s viscosity was impressive. Most nuoc mam pours out like water. Red Boat leaves the bottle like maple syrup.

 But, it was the taste test that sold me: Three Crab is salty coming in and going past the tongue. Red Boat starts salty, but finishes sweet. It has a savoriness that reminds me of why for some back in the Vietnam nuoc mam makes a complete meal by being spooned over a small bowl of rice.

 Filling a clay pot with the grilled black bear meatballs and marinated venison slices, I mixed up a batch of nuoc mam cham, the dipping sauce that you’re normally offered with Vietnamese cha gio (deep fried imperial rolls). And then that’s when I knew, beyond the shadow of doubt: Red Boat is THE BEST nuoc mam you can find in the United States!

 Here’s the recipe for you to find out yourself:

 There are three parts to Bun Cha. First is the ground meat, then the grilled whole meat, and then the vegetables that make such an aromatic and healthy meal.

 It may look pretty involved, but once you have the veggies and meats all set up, the grilling and nuoc mam cham steeping is pretty quick and easy.

 Nuoc Mam Cham

 2 Cups water

½ Cup rice vinegar

½ Cup sugar

10 TBS fish sauce

2 small fresh chili peppers, chopped

  1.  Bring the water with the vinegar up to boiling, then turn off the heat
  2.  Pour in the sugar to dissolve
  3.  Add the fish sauce and chopped fresh chilis
  4.  Normally, you let this cool, but for Bun Cha, pour over the meat warm.

 Cha Thit Gấu (Ground Bear Sausage)

 

1/2 lbs. ground bear meat

4 cloves of minced garlic

1 TBS sugar

1 TSP salt

1 TSP black pepper

1 TSP white pepper

1 TSP coconut caramel sauce, or molasses

1 egg beaten

  1. Mix all ingredients thoroughly
  2. Place in a non-reactive/non-metal container, covered, for at least an hour, or preferably overnight
  3. Form them into handball-sized meatballs and place a number of them on a skewer for easier manipulation on the grill
  4. Grill over a high heat coals, starting your cooking before the venison
  5. As bear meat is like wild pork in terms of parasites such as trichinosis, it’s important to cook the bear through. That’s doesn’t meant dry, but to an internal meat temperature of 160 degree Fahrenheit.

  

  • Bear meatballs on a stick ready for the grill

Thit Nai (Venison component)

1 lb venison roast, thinly sliced about 1/4 inch or so (not too thin that it’ll dry out during grilling)

1/8 Cup  minced Lemongrass. If you live in temperate zone like California, worth growing in the backyard for a number of great recipes and teas, and it’s a natural mosquito repellent)

2 TBS sugar

1 TBS fish sauce

1 TSP ground pepper

2 Cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced.

1 TSP soy sauce

1 TBS molasses

  1. Mix everything but the venison
  2. Place the venison strips in a non-metal/ non-reactive container and cover
  3. Let the meat sit in marinade for at least an hour—I like to leave it overnight.
  4. Lay the meat strips in a fish or veggie-grilling basket to keep them from fall into the fir
  5. Grill the meat for four to five minutes on each side, to a brown or black on the outside and slight pink inside.

 

The Veggies and Rice Noodles

 1 Cucumber

1 Bunch of Cilantro

1 Bunch of Thai basil leaves

1 Bunch of fresh mint leaves

1 Head of lettuce

2 Cups of pickled daikon and carrots in a seperate bowl for serving

 

Pickled Daikon and Carrots  (Do Chua) recipe:

1/2 lb. carrots -shredded in food processor, sliced in thin rounds or thin match-like strips.

1/2 lb. daikon radish – cut same as carrots.

3 cups warm water

3 Tablespoons distilled or rice vinegar

2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you want your pickles

2 tablespoons salt

  1.  Mixed the brine and heat for total saturation, and then after cooling, pour it into non-reactive container, like a ceramic pickling jar
  2. Shred the carrots and daikon into two to three-inch long thin strips
  3. Place the carrots and daikon in the brine, and let pickle for at least an hour before using. It can last for up to five months in the refrigerator.

 

Bun Cha Serving Steps:

  1. On a large serving dish, please a heaping mound of rice noodle. I use pretty much one full package of rice stick that I quickly dip into a hot pot of water, using a basket ladle. Only about a minute at the most to soften the noodles, and making sure to lift and drop to get most of the excess boiled water out
  2. As it continues to hydrate and become opaque white, lift and separate the bundle to give the noodles loft as they cool
  3. Once they’re just warm and not hot, you can begin an arrangement around the rice noodles of sliced cucumber, whole lettuce leaves and sprigs of mint or basil and sweet basil
  4. On another plate lay a stack of Bun Cha (cirular rice paper). It’s served with a bowl of warm water for diners to wet the Bun Cha to soften it enough to make a the roll 
  5. Once everything but the meat is ready, and placed at the dining table, begin the cooking process for the two meats on the grill 
  6. After the meat is cooked, place it in a pot, sliding the meatballs off the skewers. My preference is a traditional Asian claypot as it keeps the meat warm 
  7. Warm up the nuoc mam cham, and pour over the barbecued meatLet the meat sit in the sauce for fifteen minutes, then serve.

 How to eat Bun Cha:

  1. Take a bowl and place a softened piece of rice paper in the middle
  2. Grab pieces of cucumber, cilantro, lettuce, basil leaf and place them in line up the middle of the rice paper
  3. Place a thumb-thick collection of noodle strands on the line of veggies
  4. Using your chopsticks, collect a piece of venison and half or quarter of one of the meatballs and place along the line of noodles and vegetables
  5. Top with a few strands of the Do Chua
  6. Spoon some nuoc mam cham down the line
  7. Roll up the rice paper and eat like a Vietnamese burrito

 

Bon Appetit!

Bun cha ready for rolling and eating

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Cambodian Honey Marinade Bear Steaks

Posted on 21 April 2011 by Cork Graham

Don’t eat anything with a face a mother could love. You’d think this phrase was only the slogan of the vegetarian, but I can almost hear the bane to sound wildlife conservation rear its ugly head even in hunting circles.

That’s where in lies the apprehension of even the hungriest hunter when the topic of culinary conversation falls on the bear. Everyone’s willing to go out and blast a buck, or drop a duck. They might even do the proper work of thinning out coyotes. But will they drop the same hammer on a large Teddy bear?

“Oh it just looks too much like a human when it’s skinned,” is the other retort frequently used. Now, if Fish and Game used these emotionally driven ideas to run their wildlife management programs we’d be in real trouble…wait a minute: they do run their programs based on emotional responses by the public!

Not that the research isn’t there provided by biologists. It’s just that in California, the DFG doesn’t want to ruffle too many feathers: they do have to get paid…but should their pay be based on how they make people in San Francisco and Los Angeles feel all warm and cuddly? Or, should they be taking care of a predator population gone rampant, while the major prey dwindles due to too many deer tags sold for deer zones, Mexican cartel growers setting snares and booby-traps, lack of burning for fawn protection and increased food potential (USFS/BLM is terrified of getting sued by homeowners if their home accidentally burns down), and major mountain lion populations left unchecked?

We have a really big problem in California, as do most of the states along the Pacific Coast, where we’ve let city votes control country wildlife: does a person who’s never set foot in the country except for perhaps an annual picnic local park have better knowledge about wildlife behavior and habitat than a biologist who spends 200 days a year tracking populations? According to the continued moratorium on hunting mountain lions, that only helps the ignorant sleep at night, but has actually led to more lions killed under depredation tags and the rancher’s Tripe S (Shoot, Shovel and Shut-up) than would have ever fallen to a hunter population carrying a mountain lion tag during a set hunting season.

Until California gets its wildlife management practices under actual control of those who are paid to know what to do, i.e. the DFG biologists, we can at least we can do our part to help the deer population by thinning out the next largest predator population, the black bear, in California…and if what I’ve heard rumored is true, there might within a few years be a California bear hunting season with no limit as I enjoyed in Alaska—YES! THERE ARE THAT MANY BLACK BEARS IN CALIFORNIA…when you have bears, coyotes, and mountain lions coming down into heavily populated areas in search of food, it’s because their bigger brother kicked them out of their home area.

And with something as tasty as black bear meat, I’m still perplexed as to why people continue to avoid putting them in the meat locker and cooking them for a fine meal. After all, up until the early part of the last century (the selling of wild game became illegal in 1918), black bear had an honored place on menus in the most respected restaurants of New York.

For me, as I’ve been under the gun with the release of two new novels this year, the re-release of my 2004 bestselling Vietnam Prison memoir, The Bamboo Chest, in Kindle, and a new memoir (I call it the Marley & Me for combat veterans), bear meat has been a true source of comfort: it’s rich like an amazing beef steak, and yet sweet like pork. If you were to ask me my rating on meats, it goes this way from top to bottom: moose, black bear, antelope, wild boar, mule deer, blacktail deer…black bear, especially one that’s been feeding on manzanita berries or black berries, is that good!

In the last few months, I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting. This might be my best bear steak recipe of all. Yes, even better than my Scots Drambuie-Berry BBQ sauced black bear steak…It fits so well with what fellow hunter born under the sign of the archer Chef Marco Pierre White says, that food goes well served with what it eats. And what does a black bear enjoy most than honey?

Khmer honey-marinated black bear steaks grilling on a Big Green Egg.

Khmer Honey Marinade Black Bear Steak Recipe

Ingredients :

· 1½ lbs black bear steaks

· 1 tbs garlic, minced

· 1 stalk of lemon Grass, chopped

· 1 tbs soy sauce

· 1 tbs oyster sauce

· ¼ tsp salt

· 1 tbs honey

· ¼ tsp black pepper

Nuoc Mam Cham (This is the sweet delicious dipping sauce you get served with Chai Gios [Imperial Rolls]) It’s a little sweeter than Khmer, but works fine:

· ½ cup Nuoc Mam (Fish Sauce)

· 1 cup cold water

· 2 tbs brown sugar

· 2-3 tbs white vinegar

· 1 tsp fresh lime juice

· 1 Thai bird chili finely chopped

Steps :

1. Put the bear meat in a large container and set a side.

2. In a blender, put garlic, green onion, soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt, honey and black pepper, blended well.

3. Pour the prepared marinade on the bear meat, mix well, cover it and refrigerate it over night, or at least 4 hours.

4. To grill, lay the marinated bear on the grill at a medium temperature, cook until meat tender and singed on both sides and there’s no pink juice leaking when you pierce the meat to test. A great carmelization will occur that seals in the juices and adds to its moistness, though cooked through. Because of the possibility of parasites in bear, you need to cook to a central temperature of 155 degree Fahrenheit.

5. Slice the steaks and serve them hot as an appetizer with rice, or wraps meat with rice noodle, lettuce, herbs and dip in the nuoc mam cham.

Bon Apetit!

Related Articles:

· Veterans Day Mendocino Black Bear

· Hank Shaw’s Bear Pelmeni

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Searching The Wild Within with Steven Rinella [Radio Interview]

Posted on 14 March 2011 by Cork Graham

I thought I had accidentally landed on one of the ever-increasing number of hook and bullet channels when I came across an ad for The Wild Within, hosted by Steven Rinella; not the Travel Channel. With the way Travel Channel programming has followed the New Yorker nepotism of the New York publishing world, it seemed as though you had to be either a New York whinning, potty-mouthed ex-junkie chef-turned writer, carrying a child-like fascination with Apocalypse Now; or a New York glutton with a penchant for traveling the country in search of restaurant-promoting food competitions, to get your own series. To see a Michigan-born-and-raised hunter and trapper hosting a show on that channel floored me.

With great anticipation I waited for the first airing: finally a hunting show that went further than an inundation of boring kill-a-minute, 30-minute sponsor advertisements, pushed on the new overabundance of outdoor channels—how I miss the educational hunting shows broadcast during the 1980s and early 1990s. More importantly, here was a show that would, hopefully at least, reveal to its viewers how to dismantle a deer.

Can you believe that the major outdoor channels actually don’t want any close ups of the processing of game? Many would think it’s because of the advertisers, but not the programming directors who pushed for this—because they’re afraid it’s too politically incorrect: Now you know why Cork’s Outdoors TV isn’t broadcast on satellite, though many requests from the different outdoor channels have come down the pike this year—they won’t allow me to show you how to even gut and skin a feral pig!

Rinella learning to make fish arrows in Guyana

 

THE WILD WITHIN

The first episode of The Wild Within was set in a place I know well, and remains as my hunting and fishing heaven: Alaska! There are very few states left where you can truly live off the land as a hunter/gatherer, and Alaska is at the top the list. On Prince of Wales (POW) Island, where Rinella and his brother own a hunting cabin, there’s a plethora of sustenance.

I must admit that I was hoping Rinella would’ve hunted near his home, in New York or New Jersey, for the first episode. Everyone flies to Alaska for an outdoors show, and yet there are so many poorly-represented, great hunting places right next to such a major center of anti-hunting: Ingrid Newkirk and Wayne Pacelles’ cash cows, PETA and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) campaign from NYC. But, you can’t go wrong with Alaska, especially Southeast Alaska: bush planes, remote cabins, full crab and shrimp pots, and Sitka blacktails in good number…having lived and worked around the world, there’s a reason Alaska is the only place I ever truly get homesick for…

From Alaska, The Wild Within continued to Montana the next week, and that’s where I think the shake-down cruise for the show hadn’t yet found its legs. As Rinella mentioned to me over the phone, this is their first season, and they were just getting their steam and there was a question as to what to focus on: historical, environment and conservation, or the adventure of hunting, fishing and gathering.

This happens with all types of programming, whether scriptwriters on shows like Hawaii 5-0, or producers on TopShot. For most, it’s the first time the production team has met and are just learning each other’s quirks, along with not only clearly filling out the premise through field experience, but also editing and trying to coordinate programming with the broadcast company.

It especially gets interesting when parts, or all of the production team have never even participated in the main activity of the show…As is often the case, producers take the job no matter their own lack of knowledge or experience—perhaps you’ve heard of actors in Hollywood getting hired for a film, saying they’ve been riding horses since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, or that they hearken from a long line of motorcycle riders, yet the most they’ve straddled was a bar or diner stool while searching the jobs section of a newspaper? Same thing.

If you noticed that some episodes seemed to be off, like San Francisco (as one based in the City by the Bay, I know well the amazing opportunities for hunting, fishing, and gathering—I was aghast to see Rinella collect roadkill, totally illegal in California) which slapped me in the head with a big “Huh?”, or the Montana episode, that made me wonder whether this was a show best suited for the History Channel. When Rinella told me that The Wild Within was originally formulated for sale to the History Channel, it all made sense: the Molokai and Scotland definitely fit within the parameters of Travel Channel, while the Montana show appeared shot for either the History or Travel Channel.

So, like any crew on a new boat, a new production has a variety of learning curves related to the first shake-down cruise, of which this new season definitely has its highs and lows. Part of the problem can be that programming doesn’t actually coordinate to shooting and editing. What may have been shot first, ends up as an episode broadcast much later in sequnce. I can’t tell you how annoyed I was with the POW Island episode, when I heard Rinella repeat that oft repeated saying given non-hunters: You’d be paying $30 or $50 a plate for this in a restaurant!

Again, YOU CAN’T LEGALLY BUY TRUE WILD GAME IN THE US!

Not until the Scotland episode did Rinella clarify that in Europe, where the laird of the land owns the land, game, livestock and those who work it (one of the main reasons my ancestor, David Graham, said to hell with Scottish and Irish landlords, and took his family of Calvinists to South Carolina in 1772—hitting home the final point to King George with a round ball at the Battle of Kings Mountain), true wild game is shipped to market in Paris and London, and sold much fresher in the butcher shops of little villages that neighbor these hunting estates.

I was impressed that the introduction scene of the Scotland episode had Steven Gow, the Scots ghillie (hunting guide), working on meat that was to be shipped out that week. They really captured the hunting in Europe, and how much of a commodity it is. It also made me cringe, remembering how in the US we’re quickly following in their footsteps: $800 to $1,500 to shoot a wild boar in California?

We already have enough problems with a majority of the population growing up in urban areas, having lost their hunting, fishing and gathering traditions by generations—traditions that would have helped keep a clear public eye on such fabricated science pushed by PETA and HSUS. Charging horrendous fees on game that legally belongs the citizens of a state, does nothing but create an elitist attitude about something that was so free and drew many from their nations of origin.

In the Scotland episode, the hunter, angler, gatherer, theme of the show really came across, from field to table. And, this last weekend, the Guyana show carried it well again. This theme of field to table, and local bonds built, is the strength of the show, and even its honesty works, though it did make me recoil a few times, starting with the crippled blacktail that they finished off in the first episode in Alaska, and then a wounding arrow shot on a tapir.

During the Central America War, tapir found a fond spot in my heart. I was at a secret Contra base along the Honduran border, and because of the ridiculously low rations afforded our Cold War allies by US Congress budget cuts, we had to augment beans and rice with whatever animal protein got from the jungle.

Contra with three Sandinista rounds in his gut, leaving on my medevac in.

 

For the same reasons of the bigger bang for the buck Rinella mentioned on Sunday’s Guyana episode, the Miskito tribal members fighting in the Nicaraguan Defense Force (FDN) guerrilla unit I accompanied, targeted the tapir with dogs—much more meat than a hapless cuzuco (armadillo) or iguana. Imagine mountains, sides steep as cliffs, and during the rainy season, knee-deep mud, and thick brush and tall canopy—a shiver runs up my spine remembering firefights conducted under those conditions. We carried AK-47s to make the shot on the hungrily sought tapir table fare, but also to defend against surprise attacks by Cuban and Russian Spetsnaz-trained Sandinista Special Forces units.

Those harried days of the 1980s came rushing back as Rinella narrated on the tapir, and Jim Jones (I worked the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco for NBC, along with longtime NBC cameraman and Jonestown survivor, Steve Sung—see enough bullet and fragment wounds and you recognize them easily, especially along the arms), but also the creepy crawlies and slithers that leave you not only very uncomfortable with a bite or sting, but even perhaps in the end, dead.

The Guyana episode also struck home the difference between sport and subsistence. In Alaska, those of us who actually survived on our caught or shot food, had no problem shooting a caribou in the water—in contrast, those who flew in from out of state for a hunt, or lived in Anchorage, would never think of doing so for the flak they’d get from their hunting party.

And this is where I’ve started enjoying the show, when in the beginning I had my misgivings with its clarity of purpose. The Wild Within really gets its legs when it focuses not on the historical qualities of hunting, or an area, something that can easily be touched on at the beginning, in short review, as with reference to Reverend Jim Jones in Guyana; but instead focuses on the present-day locals, the conditions, and work a subsistence lifestyle requires: shooting, trapping, catching and gathering everything you need from the environment, doing it day in and day out, no chance of calling in a sick day, especially when you have to provide for your family.

That’s Entertainment!

As Rinella mentions on the adjoining Cork’s Outdoors Radio episode, TV is definitely focused on entertainment (whether a travel show, or sadly of late, the news) first, and secondly, if you’re lucky, you educate as much as you can between those emotion-stirring moments, in the hopes that the viewer will pick up a book and go further in-depth. That’s where I laud the Travel Channel in even airing such a program—showing hunting and gathering for what it is: not necessarily pretty, sometimes amazingly gorgeous.  The upcoming Texas episode promises to be quite the saddle-burning ride…

The Wild Within comes into its own as it remembers that premise by focusing on the local peoples, and their quest to keep sustained on what the wilds offer them. Most importantly, not as one of the other proliferations of survive in the wilds and get out alive shows, but instead looking forward to the trip outdoors, the resulting fine meals of game and fish, to that reconnection with oft-lost skills that kept us alive where we all originally came from—the wilds!

Related Links:

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy the interview of The Wild Within’s Steven Rinella on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

TOPICS: Steven Rinella, author and host of THE WILD WITHIN, speaks about his writing and adventures for the Travel Channel.

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