I’ve learned many valuable lessons in my 20-plus years of cooking in restaurants and working as a recipe developer. One of those lessons is the importance of citrus—oranges, lemons, and limes. The fruit and juice are fabulous, but the zest is culinary gold. Good cooks know the zest packs the most concentrated flavor. It’s the reason I always add it as a finishing touch to upgrade many of my dishes, including my cranberry sauce.
Always Add Orange Zest to Cranberry Sauce
Have you eaten a raw cranberry? It’s tart and acidic, which is why sugar is thrown at it to turn it palatable. While the sugar softens the blow, it doesn’t do much to complement the natural, sweet flavor of the cranberry, especially when it comes to cranberry sauce.
I’ve found the best way to boost the flavor of cranberries is with orange zest. It’s bright, but not acidic and brings out the best of the cranberry. It keeps the sauce from being “one-note,” adding a bit of interest to what can be a flat dish.
The Best Way to Zest an Orange
I zest my orange with a Microplane—the long skinny one with fine grates. I hold the citrus in my non-dominant hand (my left) and the Microplane in my dominant (my right). I set the grater on top of the orange with the grates facing down toward the fruit. Then I run the grater back and forth, rotating the fruit, not my hand, which stays underneath the fruit at all times. The orange zest collects on top of the grater.
Once I’ve got what I need, I’ll flip the Microplane and dump the zest into a bowl. I like doing it this way versus directly over the bowl because I can see the zest collecting and I never injure myself since my hands stay away from the grates at all times.
How Much Orange Zest To Use In Cranberry Sauce
The zest of fruit is delicate and adding it to hot foods weakens its power. Because I want all of the flavor I can get, I take the cranberry sauce off the heat and give it five to 10 minutes to cool before stirring in the fresh orange zest.
The amount you add is up to you. Start with the zest of one medium orange, which will give you about one rounded tablespoon. That’s the right amount for one 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries cooked down to a sauce.
What About Upgrading Canned Cranberry Sauce?
Maybe you don’t make fresh cranberry sauce? That’s OK! This one-ingredient upgrade works for canned cranberry sauce too. Start with about one to two teaspoons of orange zest and see what you think. Remember, you can always add more, but taking it out isn’t as easy.
3 Ways To Make Cranberry Sauce
- Classic Cranberry Sauce Recipe
- Instant Pot Cranberry Sauce Recipe
- Spice Cranberry Sauce with Pinot Noir