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The secret to getting cranberry sauce just right

ELIZABETH KARMEL, Associated Press

Publication: The Day

Published November 07. 2012 4:00AM
Matthew Mead/AP Photo
Cranberry Chutney With Port

One of the many things people love about Thanksgiving is the continuity of the menu across generations and regions.

Sure, every family and region has its own interpretation of the staples. But it is simply amazing to me that on one day so many Americans regardless of background sit down to roughly the same meal - turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, dressing (if you're in the South, stuffing if you're in the North), some sort of potato and a healthy dose of pie.

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving - aside from basically everything - is the cranberry sauce. It is one of the very first recipes I developed many years ago when I was supervising the public relations side of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. I called it a cranberry chutney instead of a sauce because it is so thick with fruit, spices and a touch of vinegar. It is good enough to eat off a spoon.

Just be aware - the flavors are intensely American and have no resemblance to Indian chutneys.

Even though most Americans serve cranberry sauce from a can, I urge you to make this the year you try making it yourself. It's so easy and so delicious, there's no reason not to. Even if you don't use my recipe, making cranberry sauce from scratch is well worth it.

And here's one tip regardless of which recipe you use. Getting the sauce to thicken and take on the right consistency requires that the cranberries simmer for at least 10 minutes. That is how long it takes to release the pectin - the natural jelling ingredient - from the fruit. As long as you cook it for long enough for the cranberries to pop, you should be good.

I wanted my new cranberry sauce to be heavy with fruit, like jam; but also tart and sweet, and with a depth of flavor you can't get with white sugar alone. I achieved this by adding dried apricots and dried cherries for their sweetness and texture. As a result, I was able to reduce the recommended amount of white sugar.

I used a combination of fresh squeezed orange juice, port wine and balsamic vinegar instead of water, creating layers of flavor and complexity that cook down and infuse into each of the sour berries. Once the berries start to pop - my favorite stage of the recipe - I add a pinch of salt and warm autumn spices, including cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

This fruit-filled cranberry chutney is good hot, room temperature or cold and will brighten any holiday table. You also can make it up to a week ahead.

Cranberry Chutney With Port

Start to finish: 15 minutes. Serves 16.

Two 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries, washed and picked through

Zest and juice of 1 large orange (about 1/2 cup of juice)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup port wine

1 cup sugar

1 cup dried Turkish apricots, cut into strips

1 cup dried cherries

Pinch salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

In a large, heavy pot, combine the cranberries, orange zest and juice, balsamic vinegar, port and sugar. Bring to low boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Add the apricots, cherries and salt.

Making sure the cranberries don't burn, continue cooking over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries start to pop. Add the nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, then stir well to combine. Continue cooking on low until thick, about another 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

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