Cranberry sauce is supposed to be a balance of sweet and tart. The sauce acts as a cleansing port in a tumultuous storm of fat and salt, but the effect is lost if the sauce is too sweet. Luckily, there is a very easy way to fix an over-sugared homemade sauce: You just need a little citric acid.
Sure, you could add lemon, but that brings its own, cranberry-obscuring flavour. Citric acid, which A.A. Newton refers to as “sour MSG,” is an all-purpose acid enhancer that belongs in your pantry year-round, but it’s particularly useful in dishes that need tartness, but nothing else:
Since its only noticeable flavour is “sour,” citric acid lets you tweak the acidity levels in a dish without overpowering any of the other flavours, which is always a risk with something like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. It’s also great for dishes that benefit from a little tartness but absolutely do not need any additional liquid.
Sound like a sauce you know? To use citric acid to save over-sweetened cranberry sauce, simply use it like you would MSG in a savoury dish, and stir in little pinches until your sauce is as tart as you desire. But don’t stop there. You can use citric acid in a cloying apple pie filling, a one-note turkey brine, or heavy, stodgy stuffing. Heck, you can even live a little and add it to your gravy.
A tiny bit won’t taste lemony, or vinegary; it will just gently enhance the brightness of any dish that you add it. In a meal that’s known for heavy, meaty, and creamy flavours, this contrast is most welcome.