Ditch the Canned and Discover Real Flavor
Cranberry sauce is a staple of Thanksgiving tables. And why not? Cranberries in their natural state may be too tart to take, but adding sugar mellows their flavor into something seductively good.
Plus, cranberry sauce combines so well with those other Thanksgiving standbys: turkey, gravy, and stuffing. And for many people, it’s an obligatory ingredient in (or at least, accompaniment to) day-after turkey sandwiches.
But when was the last time you made your own cranberry sauce? Maybe never, if you’re like most of us. It’s so easy to buy the commercial canned stuff. And because cranberry sauce is often a supermarket loss leader at this time of the year, the cans may actually be a pretty good deal — at least from a financial standpoint.
How about from a flavor standpoint? Well, let’s not even go there. Instead, I’ll just tell you how quick and easy it is to make your own cranberry sauce at home. (Hint: 15 minutes, tops. Plus time to chill in the fridge.)
The only drawback is, you won’t have those little groove marks from the can.
Recipe: Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Sauce is nothing more than cranberries simmered with water and sugar. That’s really the entire recipe. You can add some orange if you like, or other ingredients (see Notes), but they just gild the lily.
I like my sauce on the chunky side, so I cook it a bit over 5 minutes. If you want something smoother, cook longer. If you want totally smooth cranberry jelly (with no chunks), this isn’t the recipe for you; but I do offer some tips in the Notes.
I also like my sauce on the runny side, so my ingredient quantities reflect that. If you prefer a gel consistency, use less water and more sugar (see Notes).
This recipe makes about 3 cups of sauce, and takes about 15 minutes of active time. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week.
- 1 package fresh cranberries (12 ounces; standard packages used to be 16 ounces not that long ago)
- 2 cups water (if you want a sauce that gels better, use 1½ cups; see Notes)
- 1½ cups sugar (if you want a more tart sauce, reduce to 1 cup; if you prefer it sweeter — and thicker — increase to 2 cups)
- mint leaves for garnish (very optional, although attractive)
- Dump the cranberries into a colander or sieve, and rinse them off. Pick over and remove any soft or discolored berries.
- Place berries in a 2-quart sauce pan, then add water and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. (When cranberries approach boiling temperature, they have a tendency to overflow the pan, so be attentive.)
- Simmer for 5 minutes. At this point, the cranberries will begin to become translucent and their skins will begin to split open, although most will still remain whole. The berries will be just soft (test one to make sure). If you want even softer cranberries, cook longer — up to 10 or 15 minutes. Typically, I cook mine for 7 or 8 minutes.
- Skim any scum from the sauce and discard it. Pour the cranberry sauce into a serving dish and allow to cool at room temperature. Refrigerate sauce for at least one hour before serving (cover with shrink wrap if it’s going to be longer than an hour). If you wish, garnish with mint leaves before serving.
- This recipe yields a sauce that’s more liquid than gel. For a firm gel, reduce the amount of water to 1½ cups, and increase the quantity of sugar to 2 cups.
- Here’s a quick way to make jellied cranberry sauce: Bring the cranberries to a boil without sugar. Then put them through a food mill or whirl in a food processor. Once the cranberries are reduced to mush, return them to the pot, add sugar, and cook for 10 minutes or so.
- Like orange flavoring in your cranberry sauce? At Step 4, add the zest of 1 orange.
- Some people substitute orange juice for water in this recipe (use 1 to 1½ cups of OJ).
- I always use white sugar, but you can try substituting brown sugar or honey.
- I’ve seen recipes that add a bit of dark rum (maybe 2 ounces). Sounds like a fun idea, and one I’ll probably try at some point.
- You can experiment with adding spices to your cranberry sauce. Cinnamon is an obvious choice, but black pepper or other spices might be fun, too. I haven’t tried this, but I’d start with a teaspoon (add along with the sugar), and then add more if necessary.
- A lot of people like to put cranberry sauce in a fancy mold, and then unmold it before serving. If that’s you, make the sauce using 1½ cups of water and 2 cups of sugar. Rinse the mold with cold water before using. Then in Step 4, pour the cranberry sauce into the mold rather than into a serving dish, and chill.
- I sometimes like to serve cranberry sauce in individual dishes (usually ramekins).
Thanksgiving: It’s About to Happen
Thanksgiving day will be here in under 2 weeks. Time to get prepared.
I haven’t yet posted a recipe for roast turkey, but no problem. I use the same procedure as for Roast Chicken. Just cook the turkey a bit longer. For me, a 12-pounder usually takes under two hours (the high-heat method I use really speeds things up).
You want side dishes? Well, this post on Cranberry Sauce is a good place to start. Or how about Cranberry Relish with Jalapeño? It’s a spicy remake of the traditional cranberry relish most people know.
Sweet potatoes (yams) are a Thanksgiving must-have. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is Roast Sweet Potatoes. (A lot of people seem to agree, by the way — this is the second most popular post of all time on Kitchen Riffs.)
Other roast veggies would be great on a Thanksgiving table, too. Like Roast Potatoes. Or Roast Cauliflower, Roast Asparagus, Roast Eggplant, or even Roast Belgian Endive.
We usually like to pass around Baking Powder Biscuits with our big meal. Or you might want to make a nice boule using Mrs. Kitchen Riffs’ recipe for Easy No-Knead Bread.
Our dessert tradition is pumpkin pie (another recipe I owe you). But an interesting seasonal alternative might be Grape Flaugnarde (Flan).
To accompany the festive meal, there’s no better beverage than Beaujolais Nouveau. The name means “new Beaujolais,” and that’s exactly what it is: A very young wine, released just weeks after the harvest. It always hits the market on the third Thursday of November — just in time for Thanksgiving! It’s fruity (without being too sweet) and perfectly complements every dish on the table. It’s also relatively inexpensive — usually $9 to $12 per bottle.
For sipping before dinner, you might want to consider the Classic Champagne Cocktail. Or perhaps Eggnog.
I had hoped to share more seasonal recipes with you this week and next, but this morning I received some bad news — my mother died. Although she was suffering from a grave illness, the suddenness of her death was unexpected. This post was already completed, but I’ve rewritten the ending. Some of the dishes I hoped to post about just aren’t going to happen right now. I have things to do that will move blogging way down on my list of priorities in the short term.
I probably won’t post again until next week at the earliest. And alas, much as I enjoy visiting other people’s blogs, I’ll be absent from those for a week or so too. I hope you understand.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Cranberry Relish with Jalapeño
Roast Sweet Potatoes
Roast Belgian Endive
Baking Powder Biscuits
Easy No-Knead Bread
Grape Flaugnarde (Flan)
Classic Champagne Cocktail