When moose is on the menu How will it taste? What wine to bring?

Posted: April 19, 2007

Over the years, I have eaten my share of venison and tasted game meats from caribou to impala to boar.

So when I heard that my wife, Marianne's, grandmother was planning to roast a moose, I knew I had to wangle an invitation to broaden my experience.

A few phone calls later, it was a done deal, and I began to wonder what it would taste like.

Venison can be overpowering, no matter what you do to it, but the caribou I had in Quebec was sublime and the boar reminded me more of fine beef than pork. The impala, which I had in a place called Carnivore in Nairobi 20 years ago, didn't leave much of an impression at all.

So I was curious about the moose, which was to be the main course for a Saturday lunch for members of the Pedersen branch of Marianne's Danish-American family - no strangers to game meat.

The roast itself was provided by 86-year-old great-uncle Eric Pedersen, who got the moose on a hunting expedition in Newfoundland a few months earlier.

He said that it was a young moose - about 600 pounds - and that he had shot it at a distance of 125 yards. (Not bad for an octogenarian.)

He shipped home only 165 pounds of the meat, at some cost, and gave the rest to his guide.

I had wanted to watch Marianne's 88-year-old grandmother, Anne, prepare the roast, but the simple fact of the matter is that she hates to have people in the kitchen when she's cooking.

So by the time we arrived at Anne's spread outside Hopewell, N.J., the roast was already out of the oven, cooling before being sliced.

Of course, we did not arrive empty-handed.

A few days earlier, I had called the experts at Moore Brothers Wine in Pennsauken to ask what wine would go well with moose, making special note that I was talking about the four-legged variety from the North Woods and not the dessert of French provenance.

Stephen Freehill, who took my call, said that moose was one meat he had not eaten and that he would confer with his colleagues. A couple of minutes later, he returned with a suggestion: a Paitin Barbera d'Alba Serra Boella.

We bought two bottles of the Italian red.

While Anne had barred me from the kitchen during the cooking, she gave me a rundown of the prep.

"It was nothing special," she said.

After debating and rejecting the idea of cooking the moose roast with a pork roast - something she does with venison - she decided to cook the moose alone.

She seasoned the roast with salt and pepper and put it in a pan with a light covering of olive oil on the bottom.

Anne cooked the 6-pound roast uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes before basting it for the last 60 minutes with a beef broth-port wine gravy.

"Moose is the game meat that tastes most like roast beef," Uncle Eric said.

That's how it looked when my father-in-law, Eric Ulrichsen, carved it, and that's how it tasted when I finally cut into it - but not American roast beef. It reminded me more of the leaner beef I had when I lived in London in the 1980s, one that benefited from the gravy.

Still the meal - which included red potatoes au gratin, red cabbage, and asparagus - and the company lent themselves to easy conversation of a retelling of family tales.

Uncle Eric recounted how during the Depression the family - then boatbuilders in Keyport, N.J., on the Raritan Bay - lived on game meat and eel, which their father, Hans, speared in the mud.

He recalled how once he and his father brought home a sack of frozen eels and left them in a kitchen sink only to find them squirming on the floor the next morning.

"We didn't have much in terms of things, but we always had something to eat," Eric said.

"Yes, we did," Anne chimed in.

Venison, rabbit, duck, goose and the harvest of the bay all found their way to the Pedersens' table.

As with many family gatherings, some the most colorful figures were not there.

One of them was Knud, who married into the family and has since died.

Knud worked for the Pedersens and the Ulrichsens and had a reputation of borrowing on a long-term basis anything that was not nailed down, including tools and teak wood.

"He also cut off three fingers one inch at a time on the band saw," my father-in-law felt it was important to know.

Uncle Eric recalled how Knud, despite his apparent clumsiness cutting wood, could walk long distances, up hill and down, on his hands.

"But Knud never plucked a duck properly," he said, before launching into a tale of cousin Ollie's lovelorn ways.

Laughter was followed by dessert and the recognition that, while moose may not be the ultimate taste-bud experience, it could loosen tongues and get them contentedly wagging.

Contact staff writer Joseph Gambardello at 215-854-2153 or jgambardello@phillynews.com.

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