Here’s how I see it. On the Thanksgiving table there are the essentials: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls. Then there are the nice-to-haves: a green vegetable, corn casserole, pumpkin pie. Then finally, the category I would describe as traditional frippery. These items seem to exist solely to take up every last inch of space on the table. They are there for ceremonial purposes. I would include in this category all items on the relish tray, pickles, olives, anything with marshmallows in or on it, mincemeat pies, and cranberry sauce.
We always had two kinds of cranberry sauce on the table when I was a kid – the smooth kind from a can, and the chunky kind from a can. And as far as I can remember, nobody ate either. But it was traditional, so it was there, right next to the olives. The olives were much more exciting: jumbo black olives that, only at the holidays, we were allowed to stick on all of our fingers.
Oh, canned cranberry sauce … how I do loathe thy cloying sweetness. I’m not going into full rant mode about this gelatinous red tube, as Debra over at Smith Bites has ably covered the subject – see her treatise and consider it mine – although we do differ, Debra and I, on the sucking sound when the cranberry sauce leaves the can, which I always rather enjoyed. But when it came to eating the stuff – no thanks. Besides, I needed all available plate space for the essentials.
Then one Thanksgiving, my Sissy served a cranberry sauce that was actually edible. Not just edible – good, even. Really good. Fresh, a glowing deep ruby red, and not particularly sweet. I was impressed. I gladly made room on my plate for it.
It’s not really much harder than opening the dreaded can of cranberries. Just some quick chopping, stirring, and boiling. And this cranberry sauce is so worth it. The flavor is complex and layered. Tart, a little sweet, smoky, and spicy, all at once. Its bright flavor is a refreshing foil for the richness of turkey and stuffing.
I’m hoping it will become a new tradition.
(adapted from Bobby Flay)
1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1-1/2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup bourbon [editor's note: or substitute with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and enough apple cider to replace lost liquid]
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
12 ounces fresh cranberries or frozen, thawed
2 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the orange juice and bourbon, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugars and cook until completely dissolved. Add half of the cranberries and cook until they pop and are very soft, about 6 minutes. Add the remaining cranberries and orange zest and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and fold in the herbs. Transfer to a bowl and serve at room temperature.
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