Jellied cranberry sauce's highest calling: Saving us all from that dreaded dry bird

THE Happy Eater

November 15, 1995|By ROB KASPER

TO ENJOY Thanksgiving, make sure you have a sharp knife and a can of jellied cranberry sauce. Using these two items you can ward off most threats to this holiday, including those menacing Brussels sprouts that periodically show up on the Thanksgiving table.

The all-powerful jellied cranberry sauce can save dry turkey, can resurrect tired stuffing, and can make second-day turkey sandwiches appealing. But it can't make Brussels sprouts appetizing.

The task of saving you from sprouts falls to the knife. If these dark, awful orbs should move dangerously close to your plate, you pick up the knife and scare the sprouts and their followers back to the nether regions of the universe.

Mainly the sharp knife is used for carving the turkey. If all you do on Thanksgiving is carve the bird, you will still score big points with the family. To carve correctly you need a sharp knife and the right attitude. You should approach the bird with reverence. This is not timber that you saw with a motorized blade. This is a golden, moist entree that you slice respectfully with precision steel.

One of the first things an artful carver does is praise the work of the cooks. Flattery may be expected. It may not be entirely truthful, but it works. Tell 'em the turkey is gorgeous. Few cooks tire of hearing the word "gorgeous," especially after they have been sweating in a hot kitchen.

Once proper respect has been paid to the bird and its cook, you begin slicing. Carving is an easy undertaking provided you let the knife, not your muscles, do the work. And provided you lose the turkey legs.

If the turkey legs are out of the way, slicing the bird is like mowing a Kansas wheat field. It is a simple, back-and-forth operation. No mountains, no valleys, no sharp curves. There are two ways to lose the turkey legs. You can cut them off before or after the bird is cooked. I prefer before, for a couple of reasons.

First, it makes me feel important. It gives me a reason to be in the kitchen early on Thanksgiving morning, when only the serious cooks are stirring. I have to be there to slice the legs off before the turkey goes in the oven. (Once the legs have been removed, I also remove the bones in the upper part of the leg and fill the cavity with stuffing. This is showing off.)

Second, removing the legs firstallows you to cook the legs separately. This is important because sometimes the legs take longer to cook than the breast meat.

Third, when the cooked turkey is carried to the table, the legs can be propped up against the body of the bird. It doesn't make for a perfect, Norman Rockwell picture. A leaning turkey leg looks like a tottering uncle who has had a little too much wine. But once the turkey has been "presented" to the eaters and the slicing starts, these legs fold down for easy carving access. And after all, that is the essential idea of the Thanksgiving feast, putting the hay down where the goats can get it.

Jellied cranberry sauce, that wonderful, wiggling substance that comes out of a can, plays a vital role in the Thanksgiving feast. Besides helping out Thanksgiving dishes that need a little pizazz and a lot of moisture, cranberry jelly is a great entertainer. It has a simple act, it just jiggles. But it does it well, and it does it forever. Long after the turkey has been reduced to bones and the pumpkin pie is nothing but crumbs, slices of cranberry jelly are still moving. Cranberry jelly is as lively after the big meal as it was before the feast. That can't be said of most of us.

Some people regard cranberry jelly as low-brow fare. These people, I think, aren't much fun, don't have small children, and probably have a lot of leftovers. Small children will eat almost anything if you smear cranberry jelly on it. Except the dreaded sprouts.

I noticed, a few years ago, that when the youngest of our kids passed the age of 8, our consumption of cranberry jelly dropped. That was when we began trying recipes that mixed cranberry jelly with other ingredients. Last year, we tried out a recipe from actress and cook Madhur Jaffrey that mixed the jelly with garlic and ginger. It was terrific on turkey. We are going to have it again this year at the family feed. But we will also have some plain old jellied cranberry sauce, jiggling for eternity.

Garlic-cranberry chutney

Makes 2 cups

1 inch cube of ginger, peeled

3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup cider or white vinegar

4 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 can of jellied cranberry sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

black pepper to taste

Cut ginger into very thin slivers. Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, sugar and cayenne in a small pot. Simmer on medium for about 15 minutes until there are about 4 tablespoons of liquid left (excluding solids). Add cranberry sauce, salt and pepper. Mix and bring to simmer. Lumpy is fine. Simmer on low 10 minutes. Cool, put in jar, refrigerate, serve with turkey.

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