Not so long ago, cranberries were the only fresh fruit around in a New England November. But even now, when it’s possible to invent a plum relish or grape jelly or kiwi jam for Thanksgiving, we return faithfully to cranberry sauce. Nothing beats its puckery-sweet jolt, a sharp knife that cuts through all the starchy food (stuffing, squash) on the menu.
Our essential recipe, from David Tanis, is modern and fresh; it underscores the usual sour and sweet flavors with the thrum of fresh ginger and chile heat. But we also offer a recipe for cooks who secretly (or not so secretly) like the cranberry sauce in a can. Ours is more sophisticated, a quivering ruby mass with an unexpected dash of orange and spice. Unmold it onto a cake plate and serve it in slices.
Spicy red pepper cranberry relish
Time: 30 minutes.
Yield: About 2 cups.
1 cup sugar
2 large jalapeños, preferably red, seeded and finely diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a teaspoon salt
f teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon grated ginger
12 ounces cranberries
1. Put sugar, jalapeños, lemon juice, salt and cayenne in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve sugar, and simmer 2 minutes.
2. Add ginger and cranberries, stir to coat and bring to a brisk simmer. Reduce heat to medium and let mixture cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have softened and no liquid remains in pan, about 15 minutes.
3. Let cool and taste. Add more cayenne or jalapeños if desired. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Classic cranberry sauce
Time: About 15 minutes
Yield: 2 cups
4 cups whole cranberries
6 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
f cup orange juice or Grand Marnier (optional)
∏ cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans (optional)
1. In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 2 cups water, the sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer just until cranberries start to pop, 5 to 10 minutes. (If all the cranberries pop, the sauce may be too liquid.) Remove from heat.
2. Stir in juice or liqueur, if using, then cover sauce well and chill. Sauce can be made up to this point 1 week ahead and kept refrigerated. A few hours before serving, stir in the pecans, if using.
Adapted from Canal House Cooking.
Time: 20 minutes, plus at least 3 hours’ chilling.
Yield: 12 to 16 servings.
1a cups Lillet (see note)
a cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier (see note)
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries (optional)
2 12-ounce bags fresh or frozen cranberries (about 8 cups)
1. In a heavy saucepan, combine Lillet, liqueur, sugar and juniper berries, if using. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add cranberries and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until all the cranberries burst and are very soft, about 10 minutes more.
2. Strain the sauce into a bowl through a sieve, pushing on the solids with a rubber spatula to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids. Stir the liquid and transfer to a pretty serving bowl or a mold. (A funnel or liquid measuring cup with a spout can be useful for transferring without splashing the sides.) Cover and refrigerate. It will firm up within a few hours, or can be made several days ahead. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
3. Serve it in the bowl; or, to turn out, place the mold in a large bowl. Carefully pour hot water into the bowl so it comes up the sides of the mold, melting the jelly enough to release it from the mold. After 3 minutes, unmold the jelly onto a serving dish. If it doesn’t come out, return to the bowl and try again 2 minutes later. Repeat until the jelly is released. If necessary, return it to the refrigerator to firm up before serving.
Note: Two cups of red wine, port, Madeira or orange juice can be substituted for the Lillet and the liqueur.
So easy, an in-law can do it
It’s hard to go wrong when cooking cranberry sauce, which makes it an excellent dish to assign to a guest (give it to the one who claims not to cook). The only mistake to avoid is overcooking, which releases all the liquid from the cranberries and makes the sauce runny. It will gel beautifully if the mixture comes off the heat after the first few cranberries have popped.
Feel free to use maple syrup or another liquid sweetener, like agave, instead of white sugar. Brown sugar turns the mixture murky.
Any cranberry sauce can be made up to a week ahead and kept refrigerated, but don’t try to freeze it.
You don’t even need to cook it
Fans of raw cranberry sauce, we haven’t forgotten you. This bright and bracing mixture doesn’t need a recipe – just a food processor. Put half of a navel orange (peel, pith and all) and a cup of fresh cranberries in the bowl and pulse together until everything is finely chopped. Add sugar by tablespoons until it tastes good. The white parts of the orange give the fresh sauce a pleasant bitterness that mellows over time. At my house, we like to make it a day ahead or in the morning.