Saturday, December 18, 2010

Poached Pears with Ginger

Susanna Foo's Poached Pears

The five 3-course meals I prepared for The Gastronomer for her 2008 Christmas present were a hit, so I decided to repeat the gift for her birthday in 2010. This time, however, I vowed to be more adventurous in my recipe selection--venturing away from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook in search of dishes that would challenge me and open up new frontiers in our kitchen. For the first menu, I returned to Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, which had been the inspiration for an excellent meal featuring a water chestnut salad and Mandarin pork wrapped in scallion crepes a few months before.

I usually write about the appetizer first, then the side dishes and entree, and finally dessert, but in this case I can't resist reversing the order, because this recipe is amazing. It's going straight to the Brightest Stars list--in the interval since we first tried these poached pears last March, I've made them at least four more times at The Gastronomer's request. In fact, I'm eating one right now for inspiration. They are truly a triumph in Asian fusion. I haven't tried any other poached pear recipes, but I can't imagine that they could compare without the ginger and star anise. Honestly, you don't even need the pears--at times when I've had some leftover white wine and ginger on hand I've seriously considered cooking up the sweetly spiced liquid to drink on its own. It's really amazing how the flavors of the cinnamon stick, ginger, lemon, and star anise become infused in the liquid when you boil it.

Recipe by Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup white wine
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 2-inch pieces of lemon zest
  • 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 2-inch piece gingerroot, sliced (no need to peel it)
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 firm pears
Place the sugar, water, wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, gingerroot, and star anise in a saucepan just large enough to hold all of the pears in a single layer. Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, and cook for about 5 minutes to allow the spices to flavor the liquid.

Peel and core the pears. You can either leave them whole or cut them in half [or even quarters--which is much easier--if you don't mind sacrificing presentation]. Carefully place the pears in the boiling liquid, adding more water if necessary to cover them. Return the liquid to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the pears until they are just tender, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears [The Gastronomer and I have found that it can take up to 45 minutes if the pears are very hard, as is often the case when you purchase them from American supermarkets].

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears from the liquid and set aside. Increase the heat to high and boil to reduce the liquid to about 2 cups. Strain the sauce, discarding the solids.

If serving hot, place the pears in individual serving dishes and spoon some sauce over each. If serving cold, place the pears in a bowl, pour the sauce over them, and refrigerate, covered.

Yield: 6 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Substitutions: The Gastronomer has recently been requesting that I add far more than the suggested 2 pieces of lemon zest because she loves eating them after they have cooked with the poaching liquid. Feel free to do the same without fear that the pears will be overly sour--there's enough sugar in the recipe to balance out a lot of lemon flavor. We usually don't bother to reduce the liquid down to 2 cups--it's already sweet and flavorful enough, and it's nice to have more of it!


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