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What is Cumberland Sauce?

By Deborah Walker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cumberland sauce is a rich, dark-colored wine sauce with citrus overtones that is used in Britain as a condiment for venison, pork, wild game and cold meats. Most recipes for this fruit-based sauce call for a combination of port wine, red currant jelly, citrus, shallots, mustard, pepper and ground ginger. The sauce is said to have originated in Hanover, Germany, but its namesake is England's Lord Cumberland, who was an aficionado of the sauce. Cumberland sauce can be made from scratch or purchased ready-made for about $10 US Dollars (USD). It sometimes is referred to as Oxford sauce.

There are several recipes for Cumberland sauce available in cookbooks and online, but most share the same basic ingredients and instructions. To make the sauce from scratch, the zest of two oranges and one lemon are sliced thinly, blanched for one minute and drained. The juices are squeezed from the oranges and lemon and are then set aside. One finely chopped shallot and one ounce (25 g) of peeled and grated ginger are sautéed in butter until the shallots are soft, which usually takes three or four minutes.

The cook then adds the zest, juices, five ounces (150 ml) of port and one teaspoon (5 g) of Dijon mustard to the pan containing the sautéed shallots, bringing the entire mixture to a boil. When the sauce has been reduced by half, 14 ounces (400 g) of red currant jelly and one tablespoon (15 g) of soft green peppercorns are added and allowed to simmer for five minutes or until the jelly has melted into the sauce. The sauce is cooled and served cold, either directly on the meat or on the side.

The precise history of this popular condiment is a mystery. A recipe for a similar sauce appeared in a popular cookbook published in 1821, Cook's Oracle by Dr. William Kitchiner. The first English reference to Cumberland sauce is found in the 1878 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Earlier references to the sauce are found sources as early as 1856, including one reference from an 1870 New Orleans hotel menu.

Most Cumberland sauce that is available for purchase is made and bottled in England and then exported. Online shops and storefronts in England and abroad sell the condiment in single jars or by the case. A seven-ounce (0.28 g) single jar of Cumberland sauce sells for about $10 USD, not including shipping. A case of 12 jars sells for about $110 USD.

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