Add a Little Campari to Your Cranberry Sauce

Add a Little Campari to Your Cranberry Sauce
Photo: Julia Sudnitskaya, Shutterstock

Cranberry sauce is probably the easiest holiday dish you can make from scratch. Add 340g of cranberries to a pot, along with a cup of sugar and a cup of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the cranberries pop and reduce into a thick, jelly-like sauce. Put it on turkey and eat it.

You can, of course, make tweaks: Some people use orange juice instead of water, and some people will occasionally add a little rum. But yesterday, as I was making a batch, I looked at my bar cart and thought, “Campari.”

Campari, as you probably know, is an Italian bitter aperitif. It’s bright red, almost pink, with lots of gentian (the bittering agent), herbs, and other botanicals, including clove, rhubarb, and orange peel.

I can’t speak for every cranberry sauce enjoyer, but those last three are definitely flavours that sounded like something I would enjoy in a sweet and tart cranberry sauce.

To test my theory, I made my sauce “as usual,” but replaced 1/4 cup of the water with 1/4 cup of Campari. I let it boil down, took it off the heat, then took a little taste. The flavour of the Campari was a bit overwhelming at first — you could taste the booze and the gentian was a bit aggressive — but everything mellowed out after a stay in the fridge overnight.

Once chilled, the bitter liqueur faded into the background, only making itself known at the end. It added a little bit of bitterness (a nice counterpoint to the sweet and tart), and a little bit of citrus (a nice nod to the more traditional orange juice), but the most valuable thing it added was complexity.

Honestly, I wanted more. I wanted more bitterness, more orange peel, more complexity. The dry, herbaceous gentian and aromatic citrus gave the sauce an edge without altering the flavour profile in an obnoxious or overpowering way. (It’s almost like the Campari was respectful of the cranberry sauce, and knew to assume a background role.)

How much Campari you add is up to you. Replacing a quarter of the water with it was almost too subtle, and I’ll be increasing it to half a cup next time (and there will be a next time). If you want just a hint of sophisticated complexity, sub in a quarter cup; if you want to give your sauce a Negroni vibe, add 3/4 of a cup. If you want it to be noticeable, but not overpowering, do half. (If you want even more herbaceous, bitter complexity in your life, make a Negroni.)

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