If you think of cranberries as only the tart little red berry that gets boiled into a gelatinous condiment (or comes in a can) for Thanksgiving turkey, you are short shifting your taste buds. This 100% American superfruit is so much more. At Black & Tan Grille in Green Bay Wisc., Chef Aaron Morse puts a new shine on this iconic but often forgotten Thanksgiving ingredient.
Morse inspiration for his cranberry tasting menu didn’t start in the kitchen; it started in the cranberry bogs. When he and this wife Bailey, also the co-owner of Black and Tan, were planning a fall menu, they took a road trip to meet with the Cutler Cranberry Company. The Camp Douglas-based company is owned by the Potter family, a fifth generation cranberry farming family.
It was here that Morse drew inspiration while walking the fields with Lisa Potter, fourth in the lineage of growers. The Potter family harvested 200,000 barrels of cranberries in 2012, which measures out at 2 million pounds. While most people think Massachusetts is cranberry central, Wisconsin produces 60% of the world’s cranberry crop. The state is home to 250 growers and as many as 21,000 acres of cranberries. The state expects to harvest 4.5 million barrels this season.
Morse says he found inspiration in the bogs and from Potter to come up with a cranberry tasting menu that pushes the taste boundaries of the fruit. My tasting menu started with a drunken cranberry mule cocktail, with a cranberry infused ginger beer, locally made cranberry moonshine and cranberry juice. It was a powerful pucker of tart, spicy and a little sweet. This was a sipping cocktail, as the concoction too easily cloaked the mind-bending power of the 100-proof moonshine.
This was paired with the house take on a shrimp cocktail ceviche, a large gulf shrimp brined in cranberry lemonade, resting on a cool cucumber slice and served with a generous smear of cranberry Sriracha chile cocktail sauce. Morse should bottle the sauce. As only Sriracha can do, the kick with the tart cranberry was immediately addictive. Our table was hooked and wanted more.
We thought our creative juices were satiated, until the veal meatball. If there is one recipe that Green Bay prides itself on, it’s the meatball. Green Bay Packer fans from near and far always include a crock-pot meatball slathered in cranberry sauce gravy in their tailgate fare. It’s an easy, dump in a pot dish that is a fan favorite.
Morse however doesn’t take the easy route. Yes, he uses a meatball, but from finely minced veal, and yes it’s served with a cranberry tomato sauce. But it’s the few threads of noodles that come with that get food fans standing up in their seats. Somehow, with molecular gastronomy techniques that require a PhD to understand, Morse blends agar-agar with parmesan cheese and forces the mixture through a fine straw. On the other end, thin flourless parmesan noodles extrude from the straws with a densely packed rich umami taste that will please gourmet Cheeseheads.
As our tasting menu progressed, there was no end to the cranberry muse. A house turducken, stuffed with duck bacon, chicken breast and turkey confit stuffing was garnished with cranberry chutney. Rare duck breast with a glossy cranberry-pepper gastric was as good as the Sriracha cranberry cocktail sauce. And a Hawaiian snapper (Monchong), inspired by the region’s Southeast Asian Hmong community, was served with a fine dusting of cranberry powder and lime ginger jicama slaw.
The last small bite was an artful display of a trio of vanilla panna cotta buttons served with, of course, cranberry sauce. Even after multiple courses and a pending food coma, the dessert was light and fresh. From course to course, Morse surprised diners with his artistic devotion to America's humble cranberry. Not all of these menu items are available year round, but if you want to plan your own cranberry feast, call Black & Tan to make arrangements for a private dinner.
Black & Tan Grille
Located Inside Historic Bellin Building
Executive Chef Aaron Morse
130 E Walnut Street
Green Bay, WI 54301