If cranberry sauce were a person, it would have a chip on its shoulder (or, more topically, a tiny pile of mashed potatoes). Fair enough: The Thanksgiving staple is too often pumped with sugar and smothered in spices or citrus. And that’s when it’s not exiting a can with a brisk shlwwwerrrp.
The canned stuff might have occasional merits, if the occasion is that you’re stranded on a desert island and it washes ashore. But for the Thanksgiving meal, the most sacred of secular holidays built around food, the sauce deserves better. We all deserve better.
Making your own is worth the minimal effort it takes to simmer together a few ingredients into something complex, tart and stunning. I argue that the condiment is an integral player in the meal, as its tangy brightness cuts through the rich, fatty turkey and its carb-laden cohorts. The best part, though – the cranberry on top – is that the sauce is best made ahead of time, allowing flavors to meld, and can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator (or frozen for even longer).
And so I present my ideal version: Tart, dotted with figs, cooked in wine and spiked with liqueur. (It is the holidays, after all.) I avoided recipes that relied too heavily on cinnamon and the like; as much as I appreciate spices, they make more than enough appearances in other typical dishes. Similarly, while not opposed to adding another fruit, I sought a certain texture – a little chunky and on the verge of being jamlike, but still loose enough to plop on a plate – that is lost when adding fresh fruit such as pears or apples. Above all, the sauce could not be too sweet.
After scanning the The Post’s own archives and looking elsewhere online, I settled on a mash-up: cutting spices and changing the fig varieties in the cranberry and fig sauce, swapping the type of wine and increasing the amount of cranberries in the red wine cranberry sauce. (In an earlier test, I learned that although vanilla adds a pleasant sweet note to the sauce, it can easily overpower.)
Another lesson: The importance of salt – even if only a hefty pinch – cannot be overstated. And when I eyed the liquor cabinet, the thought of a finishing splash of orange liqueur – in this case, Cointreau – seemed like a good idea. Don’t skip it; just a tablespoon brightens the sauce and pulls all the flavors together.
Say goodbye to cranberry sauce’s inferiority complex. This one’s a keeper.
Figgy cranberry sauce
12 servings (makes about 3 cups)
This sauce is complex, with a subtle kick from orange liqueur stirred in at the finish.
We also tested an alcohol-free version (see VARIATION, below) but prefer the consistency and boost of flavors from the wine and liqueur.
MAKE AHEAD: The sauce benefits from a day's rest in the refrigerator and can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week in advance.
Adapted from various Washington Post recipes.
7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) dried Mission figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries (do not defrost)
2 long strips orange peel (no pith)
Generous pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
Place the dried figs in a heatproof bowl and cover with very hot (not boiling) water; let them stand for 10 minutes to rehydrate, then drain.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar and wine in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the wine has reduced a bit.
Add the rehydrated figs, the cranberries and orange peel; increase the heat to medium and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat; remove and discard the orange peel, then add the salt and orange liqueur. Use the back of a spoon to mash the mixture until it's slightly chunky.
Transfer to a container to cool completely. Serve at room temperature, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The sauce will firm up when refrigerated; you can stir it with a fork to loosen it before serving.
VARIATION: To make the sauce without alcohol, use water instead of wine and replace the liqueur with 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice and a generous splash of white balsamic vinegar.
Nutrition | Per serving: 120 calories, 0 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 21 g sugar