Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cranberry Sauce from Scratch

One thing I like to do in this blog is make readers aware of dishes or ingredients that I love, but that seem to be overlooked or disliked by people I come into contact with. It’s two days after Thanksgiving and I’m reminded that from-scratch cranberry sauce falls into this category, which is puzzling.

It’s puzzling because, of all the dishes I serve for Thanksgiving—including roast turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, biscuits, a green vegetable—cranberry sauce is the easiest and quickest to make. It generally takes about 20 minutes, and can be made up to four days ahead. Fresh cranberry sauce is so rich and flavorful that it’s perennially singled out as being especially delicious at the Thanksgiving table. Why would anyone serve the canned version?

For the last several years, any time I've participated in a Thanksgiving or end-of-year potluck, I've opted to bring fresh cranberry sauce. It’s the perfect pitch-in dish: quick to make, inexpensive, and you don't have to heat it before serving. (I tend to be a bit lazy about my potluck contributions.) There are always a few poor souls who have never tried cranberry sauce made from scratch, and it's nice to make them aware of something good they didn't know about.

Preparing a basic cranberry sauce is easy. Combine a 12-oz. bag of fresh cranberries, two cups of water, and one cup of sugar in a non-aluminum saucepan. Bring this to a boil and simmer 10-15 minutes until the cranberries burst and the sauce has thickened somewhat. Remove from heat, let cool, and refrigerate until cold. Right there you've got a sauce that's better than the gelatinized canned versions.

But you can go much farther. Like orange flavor with your cranberry sauce? Use orange juice for some or all of the water, or add minced orange zest. Boost the cranberry flavor by using cranberry juice instead of water, or dried cranberries in addition to the fresh. Toss in some golden raisins, fresh ginger, or chopped fresh pear. Flavor it with cinnamon, cloves, or cardamom. It's endlessly adaptable.

Leftover cranberry sauce never goes to waste in my household. Of course it can be served with Thanksgiving leftovers or in one of those monster sandwiches with turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. But in recent years I’ve taken to using cranberry sauce like any other fruit compote or chunky jam, which opens additional possibilities. It’s delicious with leftover biscuits and a pot of tea for breakfast or in the afternoon. It’s also good on pancakes, dolloped on a bowl of oatmeal, or just by itself for a refreshing snack.

For Thanksgiving this year my son and I made a cranberry sauce with dried cherries, dried cranberries, and cloves (recipe below). The original version called for one cup of sugar, but we prefer our sauce less sweet, and cut the sugar to 1/2 cup. (I’ve used as little as 1/4 cup sugar per 12-oz. bag of cranberries, which results in a more tart sauce that is still sweet enough for our tastes.) The cherries add a bit of sweetness and complement the cranberries nicely. You’ll need about 8 oz. of dried fruit, which can be any ratio of dried cherries and cranberries.

Cranberry Sauce with Dried Cherries, Dried Cranberries, and Cloves
(Adapted from Bon App├ętit magazine)
Makes about 4 1/2 cups

2 1/2 cups cherry juice, cherry cider, or cranberry juice cocktail
6 oz. dried cherries
2 oz. dried cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
12 oz. fresh cranberries
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Bring juice to simmer in heavy large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add dried cherries and dried cranberries and let steep for 10 minutes. Mix in sugar, then fresh cranberries and cloves. Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst and sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours. Sauce will thicken as it cools. (Can be prepared 4 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

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