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I’ve never understood why cranberry sauce is a once-a-year deal. It’s simple to make, with easy-to-source ingredients, and the whole season is full of rich, hearty foods that practically cry out for its vibrant, tart-sweet bite. But not all cranberries sauces are created equal, and to go well with everything on the table, they need to be more than cranberries and sugar. Thus began my journey to make a cranberry sauce that can and should be made long before and after our Thanksgiving feasts.
My search for a better, more versatile cranberry sauce began last year when I tried braising cranberries in olive oil, along with finely chopped fennel, shallots, balsamic, and rosemary. The flavors were lovely but the texture a little too oily. Even though I didn’t land on the right version before cranberry season ended, I made a mental note to reduce the olive oil but keep its savory-sweet character intact.
As soon as I saw the first bags of ruby-red berries stacked high at the grocery this fall, I tossed a few bags in my cart. Instead of braising, I roasted the cranberries to concentrate their flavor and used a lighter hand on the olive oil. I kept the fennel, shallots, balsamic, and rosemary, too, but added a new player: a whole orange, its peel and flesh finely chopped. The little bites of rind soften and mellow in the oven, becoming slightly chewy, pleasantly bitter, and all-around delicious. They’re my favorite element of the sauce, next to the cranberries, of course. After a few rounds of tinkering to get the tart-sweet-savory-bitter balance just right, I called this one a keeper.
Because of its bold, complex flavors, this sauce is equally at home with a roast chicken or rich vegetable gratin as with Thanksgiving turkey. And because it’s roasted, it’s a virtually hands-off preparation, which is a good thing for any meal. Like most cranberry sauces, this one can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to a week, and I think the flavors improve after they’ve had a chance to mingle.
Better yet, the leftover sauce can be used in countless ways: from jazzing up a grilled cheese to reimagining your favorite scone and muffin recipes. Along with the cranberry sauce recipe, I’ve included recipes for three of my favorite uses: cranberry brown butter-roasted sweet potatoes; cranberry-balsamic vinaigrette; and cranberry and whipped ricotta toasts. If you’re feeling scrappy, make all three things for one meal—for example, serve the toasts as an appetizer, and for your entrée, a big, hearty grain salad packed with greens and cranberry brown butter-roasted sweet potatoes, all tossed with the cranberry-balsamic vinaigrette.
This cranberry sauce can also be easily customized to your personal taste and your meal. Here’s how:
- Include your favorite herbs and aromatics, especially ones you’re using in other parts of your meal—for example, substitute fresh sage or thyme for rosemary, red onion for shallots, celery for fennel, or slip in some freshly grated ginger root.
- Omit the herbs and aromatics, and make a simpler version with cranberries, brown sugar, olive oil, balsamic, and the whole orange. It won’t have the same savory-sweet character, but it’ll still be really good.
- Scale the sauce to fit the size of your crowd. The recipe serves eight people, if not more, but it can easily be halved or doubled. Or make more the full batch of sauce and freeze half for later (it’ll keep well in the freezer for up to three months).
Roasted cranberry sauce with orange
- 6 cups cranberries (two 12-ounce bags), separated
- 1 medium organic naval or Cara Cara orange
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (from 1 large shallot)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fennel (celery can be substituted)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- Small pinch of kosher salt, or to taste
Plus: 3 Ways to Put Leftover Cranberry Sauce to Good Use!