Cranberry sauce is the definitive flavor of Thanksgiving, and yet I posit that it’s just as divisive as cilantro. I’ve had the canned stuff, the homemade stuff, I’ve even tried the homemade-but-made-like-the-canned-stuff stuff, and still, I taste soap. Cranberry sauce, in all its various disguises, can divide a room. It’s a shame, too, because it serves an important purpose: In the midst of all the warm autumn flavors on the table, cranberry sauce adds some much needed tartness. But shouldn’t there be an alternative for those of us who aren’t c-berry acolytes? Aren’t there other ways to make a tangy, tart companion for a roasted turkey? Enter the vinaigrette.
No, a vinaigrette isn’t just for salads. Its bright, acidic tones can raise up roasted meat to new delectable heights. A simple vinaigrette creates the perfect balance to any meaty protein. Whenever I roast a chicken, I make a dill vinaigrette. When I roast a duck, I make a vinegar-laden à l’orange. Why do I do this? Because roasted birds go great with sharp, piquant flavors. Whenever I hear members of my family crying out that turkey is too bland, I think to myself, “This is exactly the sort of thing a good, pungent vinaigrette would fix.”
Alas, sharp flavors are usually absent from a traditional Thanksgiving spread. Now, I’m not here to challenge your entire holiday, although if it were up to me, we would all follow Kevin Pang’s lead and make porchetta the centerpiece in every household in America. Rather, I contend that everybody’s dinner table could use some more options. Why not offer multiple tangy accoutrements? Stop asking cranberry sauce to do all the heavy lifting here. A couple ramekins of herbaceous, spicy vinaigrette will go a long way. The best part? It’s all optional: The dressings just sit on the table in their separate bowls, meaning you can treat it like a side sauce.
Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio opened my eyes to the glory of vinaigrette. His 3:1 fat-to-vinegar ratio is ripe for experimentation. That is, take one part vinegar and emulsify 3 parts fat slowly in a blender. That’s it. That’s your vinaigrette. Now, that one part fat can be bacon fat, schmaltz, avocado oil, or classic extra virgin olive oil. That vinegar can be sherry, champagne, or lemon juice. It can be a combination of those things, too. Add some diced shallots. Add some mustard, some gochujang, some soy sauce. Vinaigrette isn’t some rigid culinary endeavor. It’s a freestyle, the exact kind of thing that attracted me to cooking (and not baking) in the first place. As long as you stick to the 3:1 ratio, you really can’t go wrong with the other components. Whatever happens in that food processor, well, that’s between you and Hobart.
There’s a whole world of vinaigrette out there, and if you’re averse to cranberry sauce like I am, I offer you some ideas below to brighten up the roast turkey this year.
Chimichurri is a great idea for any protein, period. Doesn’t matter if it’s pork loin, chicken, lamb leg, chuck roast, prime rib—there’s nothing that can’t be improved with herby, garlicky, acidic spoonfuls of chimichurri.
I like equal parts parsley and cilantro, with a small amount of fresh oregano. Minced garlic, shallot, and jalapeno contribute to a strong bite, and lemon juice and olive oil balance out the ingredients while also giving the sauce its body.
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 Tbsp. chopped oregano
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 lemon, squeezed fresh (about 1-2 Tbsp. juice)
- 3 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 medium shallot, diced
- 1/2 jalapeño, diced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Skip the food processor. Just chop and mix the ingredients above.
There are a billion ways to make an à l’orange. Some recipes just call for orange concentrate and honey, but dear God, please don’t do that. Allison Robicelli just shared this gem of a recipe that’s full of deep flavor. (Side note: Damn, she’s totally right about curly parsley. Bring it back!) Me? I like to live somewhere in between those two methods. Simply reducing some red wine vinegar, sugar, water, orange juice, and Grand Marnier is a great way to make a tangy sauce that will go perfectly with turkey, and it’s not too labor intensive. All roasted birds pair well with citrus.
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 4 Tbsp. sugar
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
- 1/3 cup Grand Marnier
- 1/2 stick butter
In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the red wine vinegar and water, and reduce by about half on medium-high heat. Add the freshly squeezed orange juice, stir, and cook for a few minutes. Now add the Grand Marnier, and reduce again by half. Slowly swirl in the cold butter one tablespoon at a time. If the sauce is too thick, you can whisk in some of the drippings from the turkey to thin it out/get some extra flavor.
My preferred herb combination is dill and parsley. I think they fit together more than any other herbs, and I’ll tell you why. Dill is a strong, almost salty flavor, and parsley is its earthy, humble, and subdued counterpart. Together, the two combine to make a well-balanced pesto, cream sauce, or, in this case, vinaigrette. Just make sure to use equal parts of both. Once you add your vinegar and slowly emulsify your oil, you’ll be left with a nice, herbaceous dressing that will instantly liven up your roasted bird. In the photo up top, I lathered roast chicken with it.
Think of this like a honey mustard dressing, but with Dijon. A spoonful of Dijon mustard belongs in just about everything—seriously, it improves any cold salad or dressing). Put a few spoons of Dijon into your vinaigrette and blend. Dijon will immediately lend your dressing some body, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to achieve the desired viscosity for serving. This combination also benefits from a good amount of fresh cracked pepper. A peppery Dijon vinaigrette goes amazing with roasted meat.