Years ago, my husband and I were making the long drive to his aunt's house for Thanksgiving, which meant listening to hours of NPR. On the way, we heard vegan chefs talking about their favorite Thanksgiving dishes and one mentioned fresh cranberry sauce.
He explained that making fresh cranberry sauce was so ridiculously simple that there wasn't any reason to ever buy it in a can. After all, you only need three things -- cranberries, sugar and an orange -- to make a delicious sauce that adds something special to your holiday meal instead of just taking up space on the plate.
At the time, my husband and I were still coming into our own as home cooks and had never made cranberry sauce. He grew up eating cranberry relish and the canned stuff had been a part of both of our family traditions. After hearing this chef talk so lovingly about this simple sauce, we decided to make it that Thanksgiving and were immediately won over. We've been making it ever since.
The basic recipe is:
1 bag of cranberries
The juice of 1 large orange
1 cup of sugar
Combine the cranberries and the orange juice in a saucepan over medium high heat. When the juice starts to boil and the cranberries start to pop, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Lower the heat and keep cooking and stirring occasionally until the sauce starts to thicken. You can use the back of a metal or wooden spoon to crush the cranberries and make a smoother sauce or leave it chunky if that's how you like it. Once the sauce is to your desired consistency, take off the heat and taste. Add more sugar by the tablespoon if you want a sweeter sauce.
Pour sauce into a bowl to let cool and then move to the refrigerator to chill. The sauce can be made a couple of days in advance and kept in the refrigerator until time to serve.
If you're more fond of cranberry relish, all you need are the same three ingredients, but instead of cooking the cranberries, grind them in a food processor or through the meat grinder attachment on a stand mixer. In a bowl, combine the cranberries, the zest and juice of the orange, and the cup of sugar and stir it all together. My husband's family slices the orange and feeds the whole thing through the grinder, including the peel, for a tart, sweet, bitter combination.
If only adults are eating the relish, add a splash of spiced rum or bourbon for a little kick.
If you're off to do your Thanksgiving shopping, skip the can and grab the bag of cranberries instead. You'll only spend a few more minutes preparing them and your taste buds and guests will thank you.