Tuesday, December 1, 2009

the best cranberry sauce

I know this looks ridiculous. I know.

It's just that I take the subject of cranberry sauce seriously. I'm
not one for culinary orthodoxy, but when it comes to Thanksgiving, certain rules must be observed. Foremost among these is this: One cranberry sauce is simply not adequate. Two, at minimum—preferably three, even if the third happens to be a Jello-fied cylinder, straight from the can (just for nostalgia's sake).

Which brings us to this year's cranberry taste test—a pet project
that's been in the works for some time now. In the past month, I've experimented with several acclaimed recipes, in addition to resurrecting some old favorites. What resulted was a tournament bracket of cranberry condiments, in order to determine the best cranberry sauce/chutney/relish (or in my case, the best triumvirate of cranberry sauces/chutneys/relishes) in all the land.


The Winners:

Cranberry-Horseradish Relish
Or, the dark horse(radish) candidate, a staple of our Thanksgiving table for several years running. People respond to the flavor combination at first with skepticism, then (inevitably) with total submission. Technically, it's a relish (read: made with raw cranberries), and, with the aid of a food processor, dead-easy to prepare. Please trust me and try it.

Cranberry Fruit Conserve
Ina Garten, in her usual more-the-merrier wisdom, opts for a serious sugar-to-cranberry ratio. Combined with chopped apple, walnuts, and dual citrus action, it makes for a conserve so good you'll spoon it over toast, yogurt, breakfast cereal. (Warning: the rest of your Thanksgiving meal will pale in comparison.)

Triple Cranberry Sauce:

I loved the concept of this sauce, which concentrates the cranberry threefold (cooked, juiced and dried), but on first taste it didn't blow me away. Rather than abandon the batch, I nestled in a cinnamon stick and let it chill overnight, hopeful that the flavors would blossom into something delicious. They did.


The Runners-Up

Cranberry-Ginger Chutney
Of all my new test subjects, this is the one I most wanted to love (primarily out of loyalty to its creator, Molly of Orangette). I think, perhaps, I should have minded the title. This is definitely a chutney—with significantly more sweet-sour twang than your average sauce. I did really like it — particularly the bursts of crystallized ginger (which I'll borrow for future recipes)—but it's not quite what I'm looking for on Thanksgiving.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Zinfandel
Not pictured here, unfortunately, but the recipe stands out in my mind
from Thanksgivings past. I know it sounds annoyingly schwa, but the effect is rich and perfect for the season, almost like mulled wine. If you're looking for a "spiced" cranberry sauce, this one is my favorite so far.


Triple Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pecans
A riff on the Triple Cranberry Sauce featuring pecans and ginger syrup (ginger syrup—genius). Very tasty, but in the end I preferred the (only moderately tweaked) original.


Not For Me:

Cranberry Sauce with Grand Marnier

This was one of the featured "signature dishes" in Saveur's Thanksgiving issue this year, so I couldn't resist. It's another brown sugar-spiced variation on the cranberry, with the clever addition of black peppercorns. For me, the flavor was not as well balanced as the others.


***

Do yourself a favor and make these the day before. [Covered, they'll survive in the refrigerator at least twice that long.] You want to allow enough time for the flavors to blend. Plus, you already have enough on your Thanksgiving day plate.


Cranberry-Horseradish Relish

Most of the measurements below are approximate—you can add these things to taste. This is one that really needs time to rest; I usually avoid seasoning until after it's been chilled. By the way, this one wins the day-after Turkey sandwich condiment award.


1 (12-ounce) package cranberries, thawed

1 small onion, quartered [I usually end up using about 3/4 onion]

½ cup sugar
1/2 cup light sour cream or plain low-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish
Salt


Combine cranberries, onion and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sour cream, horseradish and salt to taste. Refrigerate until chilled, preferably overnight.


Cranberry Fruit Conserve
Adapted from Ina Garten


1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
1 3/4 cups sugar [I tend to use a little less]
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

1 orange, zest grated and juiced
1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans


Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins and nuts. Let cool, and serve chilled.


Triple-Cranberry Sauce

Adapted from Bon Appétit


1 cup frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed

1/3 cup sugar
1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries, cleaned
1/2 cup dried cranberries (about 2 ounces; I used a combination of cranberries and cherries)

3 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons minced orange peel
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cinnamon stick

Combine cranberry juice concentrate and sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add fresh and dried cranberries and cook until dried berries begin to soften and fresh berries begin to pop, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in orange marmalade, orange juice, orange peel, allspice and cinnamon stick. Cool completely. Cover; chill until cold, about 2 hours. Remove cinnamon stick and serve.

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