You really know the fall cooking season has arrived because of two things: stores are selling pumpkins and cranberries. Today, we’ll be looking at making a fresh and easy cranberry sauce. No need for sliced can shaped sauce! This lip smacking turkey topping sauce can be made with as little as 3 ingredients and about 30 minutes on your stove top.
What is Cranberry Sauce?
Cranberry sauce, as we know it, is really more of a jam than a sauce. In it, fresh cranberries are cooked down with sugar and other seasonings until thick. The thick texture is what gives it a more jam-like quality.
What Thickens Cranberry Sauce?
There are two things that thicken cranberry sauce: pectin and sugar.
Pectin is what makes cranberry sauce and other jams / jellies thick. When cooked, pectin expands and forms long strands of fiber which can tangle and intermix like a big ball of yarn. The result for us is thickening. You can think of this as very similar to the thickening process of making a roux or slurry.
Sugar, on the other hand, thickens the sauce because it is solid at room temperature. When we heat sugar, it turns to liquid (caramelization). This allows us to mix it with items like the cranberries.
We have effectively snuck solids into our liquid, so that when the liquid cools and those sugars turn back to solids, we will have a thicker solution.
Our Approach to Cranberry Sauce
We are going to keep this really simple, cranberries + sugar + orange. You can quite literally, put everything into one pot, heat, stir, and chill.
What Makes a Good Cranberry Sauce?
As always, when it comes to really simple dishes in terms of prep and ingredients, those few ingredients you are using need to be good. We’ll be using one bag of fresh cranberries for this recipe.
If your store is anything like ours, you will probably have only one choice of brands, and that is Ocean Spray. No worries though! Their cranberries are very good.
If you have an option for organic, that’s even better. Though I have found that the organic ones may not be as ripe or sweet, so take that into consideration when developing your flavor.
When it comes to sugar, plain white is the way to go for traditional cranberry sauce. You can definitely mix it up with raw sugar or turbinado if you are looking for something a bit richer. I would not necessarily recommend using only brown sugar, as I think the molasses really starts competing with the freshness of the sauce.
We’re doing two small things that can really help develop your flavor here
- Add a pinch of salt to the sauce. This will highlight the bright flavors of both your orange and the cranberries and will reduce the pucker a bit.
- Zest the orange. All the orangey flavors you want are in the zest, not in the juice. The juice is going to help a tiny bit, but the zest is the true flavor component.
What Pairs with Cranberry Sauce?
Sidestepping the obvious answer of turkey, you can pair cranberry sauce with stuffing or a bright green bean salad. Also, do not forget, at its heart cranberry sauce is a jam, so if you have biscuits or scones, cranberry sauce and butter make an excellent addition!
You need very little to make this dish:
- Medium size sauce pan
- Measuring cup
- Wooden spoon
To get the zest off the orange, a microplane is best, but you could use a cheese grater or just a serrated knife (even a butter knife can get zest off).
- 1 bag fresh cranberries
- Zest from 1 orange
- Juice from 1 orange
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 1 pinch salt
- Wash the cranberries and orange
- Zest the orange
- Juice the orange by squeezing it
- Add cranberries, orange juice, water, orange zest, sugar, and salt to medium
- sauce pan and cook on medium heat
- Stir frequently, breaking up cranberries as you go
- After about 30 minutes, remove from stove and chill to room temperature or
- speed chill in water or ice bath
- Serve at room temperature