With late fall and winter imminent, it's time to turn our attention to cranberry sauce, that condiment we ignore for most of the year, then scramble to make appealing for holiday meals. We've produced dozens of recipes for cranberry sauces of every ilk, with flavors from licorice to mustard. Along the way, we've learned that cranberry sauce inspires strong opinions, even if it's sometimes an afterthought. Traditionalists turn up their noses at sauces enhanced with frippery like fresh ginger, blood orange zest, or habanero peppers, while hardcore foodies try to stay sane when they hear the slorping squelch of a ribbed cylinder of jellied sauce slide out of the can.
But canned cranberry sauce shouldn't be the culinary pariah of your holiday table. There is much to be gained by embracing the ease that canned cranberry sauce offers. It might be a last-minute salvage for a homemade batch that burnt on the stove. It can be the perfect way for a non-cook to fulfill their potluck assignment. Or, maybe reaching for a can of cranberry sauce instead of turning on your stove can be considered an act of self-care, taking one task off your massive holiday to-do list. Sometimes, a can of cranberry sauce is a magical thing to have on hand.
The ability to enhance canned cranberry sauce with a few simple add-ins means you've beat back the pressure of holiday entertaining, hitting the sweet spot of delicious cranberry sauce with minimal fuss. Here are some of our favorite ways to take a can of cranberries from basic to boss with just a few easy additions:
Spike it with Citrus
As it turns out, tart citrus and tart cranberries are best pals, and adding some citrus to your canned cranberry sauce is an easy way to upgrade it. Adding a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon or orange zest, a tablespoon of chopped candied peel, or even a splash of juice to your canned sauce will brighten flavors and bring in some homemade flavor. If you are using the jellied style of sauce, slice or cube it, then layer or mix it with some sliced fresh kumquat or tangerine.
Add a Hint of Spice
Boosting your cranberry sauce can be as simple as bringing the heat. A freshly minced serrano pepper, a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce can do wonders for your sauce. Or add a sprinkle of mustard powder, garam masala, or vadouvan to wake up your palate. Try stirring in a generous spoonful of chile crisp, which will add heat, crunch, and salt for a result that will totally flip the script on canned sauce. If you have a tough time with spicy, think about using a pinch of a fruity and mildly spicy dried pepper like Aleppo or Espelette, or gentle warming spices like clove, allspice, mace, and nutmeg.
Give it Some Spirit
Spirits are a wonderful addition to cranberry sauce, but remember that a little goes a long way. Go with spirits and fortified wines used to make other sauces, and start with port, sherry, madeira, marsala, sweet vermouth, or even bourbon. Add it to your sauce a teaspoon at a time until you get the flavor you want. If you are concerned about serving alcohol, after adding the liquor you can warm the sauce over medium heat until it bubbles and burns off the alcohol.
Add Some Crunch
One of the things about holiday meals is that they are often lacking in texture. Adding some crunch to your cranberry sauce can bring an extra element to your plate that might be missing. From toasted pine nuts to chopped pecans, candied walnuts or roasted marcona almonds, stirring in a bit of crunch or adding as a garnish will bring some excitement to your sauce.
Photo by Larm Rmah
A drop or two of rosewater or orange blossom water, a pinch of dried lavender buds, a sprinkle of fresh minced mint, tarragon or cilantro, some fresh ginger or galangal or lemongrass, use a judicious hand to bring these fresh flavors into your canned sauce.
Top with Dried or Fresh Fruits
Dried fruit in your cranberry sauce adds a different fruity note and another texture that can be a welcome addition and adding other fresh fruit can bring in brightness. Sure, you can go all meta with some dried cranberries or sliced fresh raw cranberries, but I also like to think about complementary flavors. Dried cherries, dried mulberries, golden raisins, chopped apricots. All work great with cranberry sauce. Fresh fruit like pomegranate arils, diced Asian pear, tart apples all will be a welcome addition.