The distinctive, tart flavor of cranberries has long made them a favorite accompaniment for game and fowl, particularly the holiday turkey. You can always follow the directions on the bag of cranberries and boil the fruit with some sugar and water. But why make the same old sauce, which is generally too sweet and one-dimensional in flavor?
The best cranberry sauce has a clean, pure cranberry flavor, with enough sweetness to temper the assertively tart fruit but not so much that the sauce is cloying or candylike. The texture should be that of a soft gel, neither too liquidy nor too stiff, cushioning some softened but still intact berries.
Before preparing any of these sauces, sort through the berries carefully. Leave in any berries that are white, but discard any that are bruised, bloated, or soft. Freeze berries right in the bag and use thawed berried in any of these recipes.
Basic Cranberry Sauce
Makes 2 1/4 cups
If you’ve got frozen cranberries, do not defrost them before use; just pick through them and add about 2 minutes to the simmer time.
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 (12 ounce) bag cranberries, picked over
Bring the water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a medium nonreactive saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cranberries; return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium simmer until saucy, slightly thickened, and about two third of the berries have popped open, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl, cool to room temperature, and serve. (The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 7 days; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)
Orange juice adds little flavor, but I found that zest and liqueur pack the orange kick I was looking for in this sauce.
Follow the recipe for Basic Cranberry Sauce, heating 1 tablespoon grated orange zest with sugar mixture. Off the heat, stir in 2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier.
Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Fresh Ginger
Peel and core 2 medium, firm, ripe pears and cut into 1/2-inch chunks; set aside. Follow the recipe for Basic Cranberry Sauce, heating 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon with the sugar mixture and stirring the pears into the liquid along with the cranberries.