Pears have a special place in my childhood. When I was a kid, my family would pick pears from the trees in my aunt and uncle's backyard. They always had more pears than they knew what to do with. My aunt made pear sauce, much like apple sauce, and my mom would can the pears to be eaten as compote. We would also eat them raw, when their so sweet, juicy, and buttery. I love them that way, but often enough the ones you buy in the market are not the best to eat out of hand. That's when I like to poach pears to create a unique dessert.
Poaching pears in red wine turns them into glowing red jewels with tender and succulent flesh, flavored by the spiced poaching liquid. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, or star anise can be added for exotic flavor. Citrus rind or tea leaves, like Earl Grey, also add flavor. The composition is up to you but the cooking method is simple. Once the pears are cooked, the poaching liquid can be reduced to create a syrup. Serve the pears with the reduction sauce and a dollop of crème fraîche for a very elegant dessert that would make a lovely ending to any dinner party.
Pears are such unique and beautiful fruit, available in many varieties. The Bosc variety is quite crisp and hard, though great eaten raw, it is even better when cooked or baked. Anjou is a juicy and less grainy variety that, in my opinion, is the best for eating raw. Bartlett pears, or William pears as they are known abroad, are great for eating raw as well as for cooking.
Comice pears, which originate from France, are often paired with cheese for appetizers. The Seckel pear, the smallest commercially grown pear, is a variety originally from Pennsylvania, making it all-American. It is wonderful eaten raw, cooked, or baked even when slightly past its prime. I use them in this recipe for poached pears, but any variety would work well.
Red Wine–Poached Seckel Pears
Note: If substituting regular size pears, use 4 pears in this recipe and cook for up to 20 minutes or until tender.
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
12 Seckel pears, peeled with stems attached, rubbed with lemon
crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving
In a large saucepan, combine wine, water, sugar, star anise, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Bring to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, add pears. Reduce to a simmer. Cook until pears are knife tender, about 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove pears to a plate lined with paper towels. Remove spices and discard. Bring poaching liquid to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until syrupy and reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes. Divide reduction sauce among 4 plates, place 3 pears in each plate, and dollop each with crème fraîche.
Yield: 4 servings.
Joseph Erdos is a New York–based writer and editor, butabove all a gastronomer and oenophile. He shares his passion for foodon his blog, Gastronomer's Guide , which features unique recipes and restaurant reviews among many other musings on the all-encompassing topic of food.
by David Latt