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We Reverse-Engineered Canned Cranberry Sauce (and Made It So Much Better)

Make a batch. Fool your friends.
By Published Oct. 7, 2021

If one of your favorite Thanksgiving rituals is cracking open a can of jellied cranberry sauce and watching it slither from the tin—you're not alone. The condiment, with its iconic ridges and alluring smoothness, has been a stalwart of the Thanksgiving table since it debuted in 1930. But even die-hard fans must admit: The flavor needs punching up.

After some experimentation, we figured out how to reverse-engineer the canned sauce and imbue it with a much fresher, fruitier taste. And the sky's the limit on supporting flavors and even molding options. 

Here's how to do it:

  • Double up on fruity flavors by cooking whole cranberries (fresh or frozen are equally fine) in sweetened cranberry juice instead of plain water.
  • Add a modest amount of sugar (and a little salt) to keep the sauce tasting vibrant.
  • Cook the berries at a full boil for 25 minutes. Cranberries are loaded with pectin, and lengthy cooking will extract lots of it for a firm, sliceable consistency—no added thickener needed.
  • Strain out the skins and seeds and stir in a smidge of vanilla to bring the flavors to life.
  • Pour the strained jelly into a mold: We like using an empty can (or even empty tomato paste cans for individual portions), but a fancy old-fashioned Jell-O mold or a glass bowl works just as well.

The plain gel tastes bright and punchy, but it's easy to accent the fruit flavor by seasoning the cranberry mixture with rose water, lemon and rosemary, orange zest and cardamom, juniper berries and shallots—even ancho chile powder.

Set the jelly in anything from an old-fashioned Jell-O mold to a clean empty can to a glass bowl.

Choose the classic flavor profile:

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.