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Lifestyle

November 18, 2012

Slate's you're doing it wrong: Cranberry sauce

There is something comforting about the sight of a jiggly, cylindrical mass of jellied cranberry sauce fresh from the can. But there is nothing comforting about its metallic, bitter flavor or paste-like texture. By all means buy a can of the processed stuff to remind you of your childhood — but you'll want something you can actually eat, too.

Happily, fresh cranberry sauce is a snap to make, and it keeps for several days in the fridge without any discernible deterioration in quality. Unhappily, many cranberry sauce recipes are downright uninspired. The recipe on the bag of cranberries I bought, for example, called for a cup each of sugar and water to be added to the cranberries. That's it.

Give our palates a little credit, cranberry packagers. Despite our reputation as corn-syrup addicts, unable to tolerate the tiniest mouthful of anything that hasn't been sugar-crusted, most Americans I know appreciate a wide spectrum of flavors. And the primary flavor that cranberry sauce should bring to the Thanksgiving table is tartness. Cranberry sauce provides the crucial acidity that counteracts the richness of virtually every other dish on the sideboard.

So being judicious with the sugar is the first order of business. Half a cup is plenty for a 12-ounce package of cranberries, especially if you supplement the white stuff with oranges, which provide a natural sweetness and gentle acidity that mitigate the harshness of the cranberries. I like to use not only juice and zest, but also chopped orange flesh, which has a fresh, juicy mouthfeel. Nearly as important is piquant candied ginger, which gives cranberry sauce a third flavor dimension and a little chewy textural contrast. (Feel free to add a little grated fresh ginger, too, if you want things extra spicy.)

If you doubt such a sauce will be sweet enough for your liking, taste it once it's cooked, and feel free to add more sugar, a tablespoon at a time. But don't overdo it. Cranberry sauce should be as acerbic (and as enjoyable) as Sleater-Kinney's "Dig Me Out." And there will be plenty of pure sweetness come dessert.

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