Cranberry-Sous-Vide-Versus-Stovetop- “Sauce-Off”

posted in: Cooking, Savory, Sweet | 17

No giant feast is complete with some kind of contest, be it an attempt to float gummy bears in a river of Pabst or a quest to determine who can eat the most twinkie-weiner sandwiches in five minutes while whistling. On American Thanksgiving (a holiday you might’ve heard of but more likely you know about the holiday the day before entitled Wild Turkey Wednesday which involves drinking Wild Turkey shots until poker matches involving betting socks and Tablewater crackers ensue) I was mindful of the contest credo.

Contests are improved if they are labeled with the word “off” following the type of action to occur, such as a “bake-off,” a “dance-off,” or the ever-popular “jerk-off” which has participants all attempting to be the biggest jerk (sheesh, what did you think I meant!).

Knowing I needed an “off” to elevate my contest to a classier plane, I decided to call it the CranberryRelishSousVideVersusStovetop-Off. Catchy, isn’t it? If you weren’t able to ascertain by the moniker, the goal of the contest was to determine which cranberry sauce brings all the bees to their knees. And by “bees” I mean party guests and by “knees” I mean near-orgasmic state.

The parameters were simple: use the exact same ingredients, but prepare them two different ways. I went classic in style, both because I didn’t want to add any offending flavors that might confuse the surely untrained palates of the random lot of revelers and because I wanted a basic litmus on which to expand in greater detail once a consensus was established.  The single decisive factor in the test is the method of cooking.

Alcohol doesn’t do well en sous vide because it doesn’t have anywhere to go/burn off in the sealed chamber, so sadly, no booze allowed in either batch of cranberries this year. As you probably surmised, I made up for the lack of port in the cranberry sauce by filling my own internal saucetank with it (via secret nips off the bottle all morning and afternoon in addition to my public wine consumption). The basic recipe for both sauces follows these findings if you care to exact a precision “off” of your own.

foreground to rear: sous vide, stovetop, placebo

No great scientific experiment is possible without the inclusion of a placebo of some sort, and folks, this was truly a “great scientific experiment.” Thus, I included in my taste test one honest-to-gelatinous can of Ocean Spray Cranberry Slop just to make sure to get an accurate reading from my unsuspecting test subjects (formerly known as friends before this “off” occurred and they demoted me to nerdy lab tech status).

I know you’re wishing I’d just shut up and present the findings, so, my *new friends* (I’m hosting a corndog-off at my house next week, btw, wanna come?) drumroll please…………………………………………………………………………..

Most guests (shockingly!) were able to ascertain the placebo sample right away and all but one stalwart of the Swansons Turkey Dinner Days dismissed it out of hand. The reviews came flying in fast and fervent on the real competitors, and they were initially mixed. The sous vide style retained more of the original form-factor of the fruits (both the cranberries and the clementines) whereas the stovetop method broke down the individual components into a more uniform sauce. Most preferred the texture of the sous vide because of this, but, like the great crunchy vs creamy peanut butter debate, this is likely a matter of personal taste.

Next we evaluated acidity, or, tartness as we called it ‘round the table. After a meandering discussion on who was the biggest tart at thanksgiving (guess who won?!) I extracted from people that the sous vide sauce was more tart. It may be because the sugars did not break down as fully as with the stovetop sauce. Reviews were mixed in terms of preference on acidity- half liked the tarty sauce better, half liked the sweet. If it weren’t a room full of gay men I would have made a correlation to that being the way they liked their women: either girl-next-door-sweet or tawdry like a Mad Men secretary.

The game changed when we introduced turkey to the milieu. Nearly everyone preferred the sous vide sauce with the turkey because the other sauce came across as cloying with the savory flavors. Remember- this is a sauce composed of the exact same ingredients, so I find this particular result quite intriguing.

The final judgment factor was viscosity. The stovetop berries were cooked just to the point of forming a cohesive sauce and much of the natural liquid present in the fruits had a chance to evaporate. This made for ideal viscosity, whereas the sous vide sauce had nowhere for the liquid to disappear (since it was entirely cooked in a bag) therefore they were slightly liqueous for most tasters.

The ultimate verdict is that the sous vide sauce is superior in taste and texture, and it pairs better with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, however the stovetop method killed it in viscosity. The simple fix to that would be to pull the bag from the water bath and dump the contents in a saucepan to reduce for just a few moments before service. Of course this would kind of employ both techniques, but not for long, and it’s what I will do in my house in the future.  Here’s the recipe I used- hope this great cranberry debate inspires you to perform a few strategic “off’s” of your own in the coming year.  xo, linda

Cranberry Sauce

Serves 8 as a side dish

  • 2 c cranberries ( I used local & organic)
  • ¾ c sugar
  • 3 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • ½ tsp freshly-grated ginger
  • Dash cinnamon
  • Pinch salt


Sous Vide: takes 2-3 hours inactive time

  1. Heat the water bath to 185°F. Place all ingredients in a food-safe bag and seal. Cook in the water bath for 2-3 hours, depending how soft you like your fruit (I prefer 2 hours). Remove bag, open, and serve.

*at this point I would have poured the contents of the bag into a saucepan and reduced over medium heat on the stovetop for 3 minutes to thicken the sauce if I had it to do over.

Stovetop:  takes 25 minutes

  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan along with 4 tbsp water. Bring to boil over low heat, place lid on saucepan, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until all the cranberries burst and the sauce is thick and syrupy, about 20 minutes.
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17 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this useful information.

  2. Yeah, I want a sous vide for Christmas or within the next 5 months. Looks like such an awesome gadget that makes favorites even more delicious. Will definitely try this recipe next year if I get one! How fun it is to do such fun projects! Did you play some music whilst doing this CranberryRelishSousVideVersusStovetop-Off? I imagined everyone doing the kid ‘n play and the running man!

  3. Love the idea of the OFF Linda. I’ve done it several times- once on the blog- with similar recipes from local chefs. It was a blast. Gotta get me into the sous-vide mode and I’ll give that method a shot!

  4. Every time I think to myself: “I don’t need a sous vide machine” then I come to your blog and the little devil on my shoulder keeps shrugging me to get one!!! Your living la “sous-vida loca”. Love ya!

  5. It looks like I am gonna have to get on the sous-vide bandwagon; I mean if you can produce a wonderfully appealing cranberry sauce with it, I am all for it! (I don’t care much for meat so this is it!)

  6. Well, you’ve once again shown me the merits of the sous vide machine, and I once again find myself budgeting to buy one. Someday, I’ll make the math work out in a math-off.

  7. It’s always bothered me how cranberry sauce is so mushy. The sous vide version actually still looks like cranberries! I’m working on wearing down Liz on the idea of having another gadget sitting on the counter…. Hopefully Santa will be nice this year:-)

  8. Great post! As a woman of science I appreciated the inclusion of a placebo :) You’ve got to have something to compare with, right? Based on looks alone I like the looks of the sous vide sauce, much prettier.

  9. Thanks for doing this! I had the same idea but was warned off of the idea from another board that said sous vide would be wasted as the berries won’t burst below 212 degrees. I’m now going to try this for the holidays!

  10. ChuckSeattle

    Interesting post; would never have thought of cooking these gems sous vide. I have always done the stovetop method. I think the key with cranberries is capturing the natural pectin within, and not overcooking them. Sticking to tradition, I keep it simple with fruit, sugar, water and orange zest (OK…maybe a splash of Grand Marnier). Bring to boil, simmer low for no more than 15 min. I’m thinking that because the berries are whole en sous vide that the skins don’t get the chance to pop and release the pectin?

  11. My mother will eat no cranberry sauce that does not have a ring mark on it. I always have buy a can especially for her.

  12. I love your scientific culinary discoveries and experiments. You have such patience my dear! I would take an order of the sous vide version of your sauce :)

  13. Only one for the placebo? That gelatinous can brings back many childhood memories. Apparently I am going to have to gift myself with a sous vide for X-mas if Jim doesn’t manage it ;)

  14. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Viscounts Table, Linda M Nicholson. Linda M Nicholson said: Cranberry-Sous-Vide-Versus-Stovetop- “Sauce-Off” -put this in your #sousvide and soak it! […]

  15. i love cranberry sauce…all of them! question: can you do canning in a sous vide?

    Linda Reply:

    @Heather (Heather’s Dish), interesting question- what aspect of canning do you mean? Capacity might be an issue…

  16. RavieNomNoms

    What gorgeous cranberry dishes. They are just stunning!

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