Steam-Braised Bear Paw with Chicken (雞燉熊掌)

Today, a recipe from the Hong Kong Chinese cookbook 燉品食譜100種 published in 1978.

Ever since Zhou Dynasty (from more than 500 hundred BCE), bear paw had been considered one of the most precious and sough-after ingredients in Chinese cuisine. While I am not sure if this was because it was actually enjoyable, or if it was simply served and eaten for bragging rights, we know for a fact that bear paw was almost always served on the banquet tables of Chinese nobles and kings, and appeared regularly on the table of emperors. Not surprisingly the newly wealthy and/or autocrats of modern China too have sought out bear paw for their tables in order to gastronomically affirm their status and pad their egos. No doubt both the old and new trends for eating bears have been detrimental to the remaining wild bear populations in China (if they still exist) and have led to a rise in dirty and inhumane bear farms.

In North America, quite the opposite seems to have been true. While bear hunting in the 1800s and first half of 1900s have dramatically reduced the bear population, it appears that their wild population has increased greatly in recent years. So much so, in fact, that many US states and Canadian provinces sell bear hunting licenses to maintain the population. I know here in Ontario, bear hunting licenses are sold on a yearly basis and quite reasonable for residents of the province.

Originally, I was going to post this recipe solely for the purposes of research, education, and reading amusement, however now knowing the above, if you do happen to go on a legal and successful bear hunt and are interested in trying out a Chinese recipe, this is for you. Otherwise, you if want to try out the recipe without bear, you can also substitute in pork trotter and hocks. The pork version will probably be quite a good dish in its own right.

  • Bear Paws, a pair ………… 1.5kg
  • Old Hen ……………………. 1 whole
  • Duck, cleaned ……………. 1 whole
  • Lean Pork …………………. 750g
  • Chinese Ham …………….. 228g
  • Shitake …………………….. 76g
  • Second Broth …………….. 20kg
  • Top Broth …………………. 8 cups(1.5kg)
  • Rice Wine …………………. 380g
  • Salt …………………………. 1tsp
  • MSG ………………………… 0.25tsp
  • White Pepper ……………. a pinch
  • Ginger …………………….. 114g
  • Green Onions ……………. 250g

1. Choose a pair of fat and tender bear forepaws (not including the limb portion), put in a pot and add 7.5 kg of water, boil at high heat for around an hour and a half. Remove the bear paw and clean it of any blisters, cankers or scabs (繭巴), use tweezers to remove the hairs (the bear paws must have the skin still on), then wash and reserve for use.

2. Peel the ginger and slice it. Remove the old leaves and roots from the green onions (around 6 stalks), then rise and reserve for use. Soak the shitake in water until soft, wash them and remove the stalk, then squeeze them dry and reserve for use.

3. Heat the wok over the stove until red hot, then add a soup-spoon of rendered lard, a stalk of green onion, a chunk of ginger, then immediately add 2.5 kg of second broth (broth made from ingredients already used to make a broth) and 76g of rice wine. Add the bear paws, and cook for 10 minutes than scoop out the bear paw. Pour away the other contents in the wok and discard. Repeat these instructions 3 times, using the same quantity of ingredients. Reserve the bear paws, remove their bones, then take a knife and slice each of the bear paws into around a dozen thick rectangular slices. Since bear paw has a very strong odor, one needs to be especially meticulous in these steps of preparation.

4. Slaughter the chicken, pluck out its feathers and remove its innards. Wash it clean, along with the duck and lean pork, chop each into 4 chunks, and blanch in a boiling water to rid them of blood and scum, then scoop out and rinse them clean. Slice the ham and arrange them with the thick slices of bear paw inside an earthenware pot used for double steaming, then place the prepared chunks of chicken, duck, and lean pork. Add 2 slices of ginger, 2 stalks of green onion, 76g of rice wine, then add 8 cups of top broth (a clear concentrated broth made usually from ham and chicken) and a small amount of salt. Cover the pot with its lid, then place it in the bamboo steamer, separated from the water, and steam for a minimum of five hours. Next, take out the chicken, duck, and pork within the pot and discard. Finally, place the prepared shitake into the pot, seal the pot well (using coarse paper on the edge of pot and its lid to ensure the gap is completely sealed), and place it back into the steamer to steam for another twenty minutes. Remove, season and serve.

* The meats in this dish are meltingly soft and of remarkable fragrance. It is an item of the utmost preciousness in any high class banquet.

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