Some food, some drink.
Pectin Powered: Spreadable Red Wine Cranberry Sauce.
Cranberry sauce is for so much more than holiday dinners. It's a condiment that's not prejudice to sweet or savory. Cranberry sauce is as much at home spooned over a scoop of vanilla ice cream as it is piled beside a big ol' slab of roast turkey. Even as a kid, I always preferred the whole-berry type as opposed to that all-gel fruit equivalent of Spam. Whole-berry cranberry sauce is versatile, flexible and easy to prepare. Save a bag of berries, there's no excuse not to bypass the can. This particular recipe is balanced in so many ways: Sweet, tangy, and tart are all in equilibrium, and the spreadable consistency is spot-on courtesy of the abundance of natural pectins in the cranberry.
We have video! For all you in the "I'd rather watch it" camp, you can check out the video companion episode for this recipe!
Live with anyone long enough, and you tend to inherit the mannerisms of your cohabitant. If I've learned anything from my wife, it's to stock-up when there's a there's a deal. Last year after the holidays, fresh cranberries were seventy-five percent off. Freezing fresh cranberries couldn't be simpler (you put the bag in the freezer), so I bought a half-dozen bags.
Fast-forward to the other day, and the zucchini bread I baked needed a topper. Butter seemed like overkill after putting that cup of olive oil in the batter, and I thought a proper jam just a bit too sweet. That's when I remembered my cryo-cranberry stash. The cranberry sauce I make is tangy and tart as cranberry sauce should be, but it's backed up with a pleasantly sweet and floral finish. The cranberries get a fruity boost from red wine, with a vanilla bean and fresh citrus to keep things interesting.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Combine sugar, wine, water, ginger, lemon juice, zest, salt and vanilla (pod & pulp) in a medium saucepan. Stir occasionally on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add cranberries and bring to a simmer (still on medium). Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the vanilla pod and buzz with a stick blender (or whatever blender you got) just enough to pop all the berries. Put the vanilla pod back in the jar (if you like), lid and and cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge.
There's a boatload of sugar in this sauce for two reasons, and if you've made jam before, I'm preaching to the choir.
- Firstly, by themselves, cranberries are reeeely friggin' tart.
- Second, the sugar works in concert with the substantial quantities of pectin in the cranberry to thicken it all up. If you don't have enough sugar, then it's not going to gel.
- If the above two things don't really concern you, and you like a really sour and/or loose sauce then by all means ignore the previous two points.
- Don't make the wine choice difficult. Even if red wine is not your thing, that's ok; just use something cheap that you'd be happy drinking. This time, the red happened to be Shiraz because that's what was open.
- In this era of globalized commerce, vanilla beans are anything but cost-prohibitive. Ebay is your friend. Just look for a vendor that's well-rated and not afraid to answer questions.
- Speaking of the vanilla bean, don't forget to pull the de-pulped pod before using your blender to even the sauce's consistency. If you can't be bothered with remembering, you could just leave the pod out of the simmering sauce and add it to your jar of vanilla sugar.
- Most folks who really like to cook know this already, but I'll mention it for the foodie n00bs in the crowd: If you're not collecting your citrus zest with a microplane, you're doing your cooking a disservice, as just a little of that white pithy stuff beyond the zest can utterly defeat the purpose of adding citrus zest in the first place.
- Speaking of citrus, if you have access to Meyer lemons, I like 'em a lot for this sauce (I didn't have one this time).
Fancy something a bit spicier? I've simmered one or two fresh jalapenos in a variant of this stuff a time or two.
I gotta give props to the original Ocean Spray recipe, as it's what my recipe morphed out of. It's impossible to mess up, but it's also a bit one-dimensional. That said, the proportions for a perfect consistency have been solved for you, so it's an invitation to experiment. Nine out of ten times, this recipe gets changed just because the only constant is a stockpile of frozen cranberries. This recipe's never met a bottle of wine it didn't like, but if you're not a boozer like me, you can use something with virtually no alcohol in it (like a hard lemonade), or if you wish to totally abstain, store-bought ginger ale or even fruit juice will work.
The possibilities for this cranberry sauce are more or less infinite. If there's cranberry sauce in the fridge, I'll reach for it as much (if not more) than my trusty bottle of Sriracha. This is the sauce to serve along side a Monte Cristo (I like mine with ham and turkey). Or, for an utterly revelatory sandwich experience, mix together equal parts cranberry sauce, prepared horseradish and mayo (totally serious). As I mentioned, if sweet is your thing, you can't lose with this stuff on ice cream. It's also stupendous when combined with granola and homemade yogurt for an easy and satisfying breakfast.
The thing that keeps me coming back to make this recipe over and over again (besides its fruity tartness and lovely texture) is that with all my attempts to corrupt this recipe with substitutions, I've never screwed it up. I'm sure the whole fall harvest thing is the reason for the culinary dogma that plagues cranberry sauce, but I've got a freezer; so I for one plan to thumb my nose at convention.
If you're curious, the zucchini bread recipe that was the driving force for me to dig a bag of cranberries out of the deep-freeze is the last entry on page 10 of this publication. I use refined (not extra-virgin) olive oil, went a bit easy on the clove, and added raisins.
10, December, 2010 -
I'm proud to say that this recipe has been included in the The 2010 Cornucopia Project at Guerrilla Gourmet! Head on over there and see how folks from forty-two other states do up their eats for the holidays. Great work Guerrillas!