And every year, I reiterate that the only element of the dinner that we must have is the cranberry chutney.
Her reaction is something between a laugh and an eye-roll, because my love for cranberry chutney is legendary. I sneak so many spoonfuls before the actual meal that my mom now makes a double or even a triple batch to ensure that there’s enough of it to go around the table—and home with me after the holiday.
The punch of sour fruit plus vinegar, sugar, aromatics, and spices lights up your palate (and in a way that cranberry sauce just doesn’t). It’s the first thing I want in the morning, swirled into yogurt or spread on toast, and also my favorite late afternoon pick-me-up with a chunk of cheese.
Making chutney is a simple process, and there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong. But a truly great chutney delivers a beautifully set, glossy base studded with still-intact cranberries, along with well-balanced flavor. Read on to learn how my colleague, Executive Food Editor Keith Dresser, created exactly that.
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What Is Chutney?
Chutney refers to a huge category of condiments with Indian origins. It can be made with fruits and/or vegetables, spices, herbs, or other seasonings; it often includes sugar and/or acidic juice or vinegar that both preserve it and add sweetness and bright tang, respectively; and it can range in consistency from thick and chunky to smooth and sauce-like.
The etymology of the word underscores its vast range and versatility: Chutney stems from Hindi “chatna,” meaning “to eat something tasty.”
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The Science of Cranberry Chutney
Cranberry chutney is vividly tangy, sweet, and savory all at once. Cider vinegar enhances the berries’ fruity acidity; brown sugar gives it a rounder, more nuanced sweetness than white sugar would; and minced shallot adds aromatic depth.
But what I love most about this chutney is the way it sits on a spoon—concentrated and chockablock with chunks of fruit. It doesn’t wobble like jelly or spill like sauce, and it’s not as dense as marmalade; it sets up lusciously thick and jammy.
Part of the textural magic is due to the cranberries themselves, which are loaded with pectin (0.8 percent average by weight, which is comparable to that of a sour apple and more than most other fruits). Pectin, a potent gelling agent, is the berries’ superpower: It’s what allows them to set up with that uniquely thick, juicy consistency.
And its effect is further enhanced in chutney, where the abundant vinegar and sugar strengthen it. Vinegar lowers the pH, increasing the pectin’s ability to gel; sugar facilitates the gelling by sequestering water.
That texture is also due to Keith’s cooking method, which calls for adding the cranberries to the pot in two stages. Half go in for the first 15 minutes of cooking, and the other half during the last 5 or so minutes. Cooking both releases pectin from the berries’ cells and concentrates it by evaporating water. As a result, you get that thick, glossy base punctuated with intact berries that burst with zingy tartness every time you take a bite.
How to Make Cranberry Chutney
Here’s the method for our Cranberry Chutney with Apple and Crystallized Ginger:
- Cook minced shallot, grated fresh ginger, and salt in vegetable oil in a saucepan until shallot is softened.
- Add water, cider vinegar, and sugar, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Add half of fresh cranberries and peeled, chopped Granny Smith pieces, and return to a simmer.
- Simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have almost completely broken down and mixture has thickened.
- Add remaining half of cranberries and crystallized ginger and continue to simmer, until cranberries are just beginning to burst.
- Transfer to serving bowl and cool for at least 1 hour before serving. (Chutney can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
What to Do With Leftover Cranberry Chutney
Of course, cranberry chutney is great for spreading on a sandwich (turkey or otherwise). It’s also really good stirred into oatmeal or served alongside pork or poultry. And since cranberries take well to so many other sweet and savory additions—apples and crystallized ginger, orange and mustard, hot and sweet peppers, fennel and golden raisins, pears and rosemary—you can have a lot of fun with the flavors.