Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Poached Pears

A pictorial of this recipe can be found on Angela Potter's food blog, Red Wine Poached Pears

I’ve adapted this from two recipes – one out of the Silver Spoon and another from Michael Chiarello. The recipes have similarities; I think poaching pears in red wine is pretty standard. While this recipe looks complex and long it’s actually quite simple. Little things make a difference and I’m just pointing them out.

This recipe takes some time and concentration - it's very easy to miss a step and creates a huge mess in the kitchen. YET it's not that difficult. Review it first, get your shit together, then proceed. It's a major crowd pleaser and an impressive presentation, as you can see from Angela's pictures.

It’s important to use ripe pears so buy them about 2 – 3 days before you need them. While unripe pears will work OK – the poaching softens them up – you won’t have the sweetness you desire. If this is the case, add additional sugar to the poaching liquid.

Bartletts work best for this recipe due to their shape, flavor, and availability. You could also use a D’Anjou or another similar sized fatty. Boscs and red pears also work but I don’t decore them; I halve them instead since removing the core with a corer would remove too much pear. Instead, remove the core with a melon baller and fill it during presentation (I’ve done it with ice cream in the past). With a Comice pear I’d do the same since the pear is large and poaching it whole would be inefficient. Also, the longer you poach the more likely the pear will fall apart so you want to keep poaching to 15 minutes or less. I’ve also used Seckels – which are smaller but very sweet. You have to be very gentle with these and not poach as long.

I tried this with Asian pears once – not good. The texture was very gritty.

Chiarello finishes his sauce with some butter. I’m certain this adds depth but I left it out since I wanted the syrup to be closer to a mock balsamic rather than a creamy syrup. Plus, the creamy sauce with the filling I think compete with each other. You could probably use this syrup as a sub for balsamic in a salad dressing, now that I think about it....

As you can see this recipe makes quite a mess in the kitchen but it’s very simple. I’ve been using the “Thomas Keller” method of sauce making: anytime you go from one container to another, filter, no matter how mundane the change over may be. It’s a bitch but it really does make a difference.

The pears alone are great too so if pressed for time skip the filling.

Poaching the pears
6 ripe Bartlett pears
1 bottle cheapish red wine (I usually use a Rioja)
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
3 cinnamon sticks
1 TBS black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 coarsely crushed cloves (smashed with flat part of knife)
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

8 oz mascarpone, softened to room temp.
1 pint whipped cream
3 heaping TBS honey
1 heaping TBS whole lavender

Soak the lavender buds in 2 TBS of hot tap water for 5 minutes then drain saving the buds. In a quart pot add the whipping cream and it to the point of where it just starts to steam a little; do not bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, add the lavender, stir then and cover for 5 minutes. Filter through a wire mesh filter lined with cheesecloth into a new container and place in an ice bath.

Pour the wine, 2 cups of water and sugar into a pot you know will hold the pears and bring to a light simmer. Add the cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, bay leaf, and cloves.

While the wine is simmering, cut the top part of the pear off (save the stem) and about 1/2 inch from the bottom so the pear stands up straight. Peel and remove the core using an apple corer. I use a vegetable peeler instead of a knife since it leaves more of the outer flesh in tact, which is the sweetest. If the pears are ripe the corer should go right through them, if not you may have to force it a bit but be careful not to damage the pear. After peeling/coring each pear, lightly rub with lemon juice to prevent browning. Save the residual cores.

Bring the wine mixture to a boil and gently add the remaining lemon juice and pears using a slotted spoon. It does not matter if the pears are upright or on their side – just covered with the liquid. Return the liquid to a light simmer, cover, and poach for 15 minutes. GENTLY remove the pears with a slotted spoon and stand each upright on a plate to cool. It helps to use a chopstick inserted down the hole to help since the pear will be hot. Some of the pears may have a peppercorn or clove stuck in it; if so gently pry out using a toothpick. Cool to room temperature then cover with plastic wrap.

Add the pear cores to the liquid and using a potato masher CAREFULLY break the cores apart to release the extra juices and simmer for five minutes. Carefully pour the hot wine mixture into a new pot through a cheesecloth lined fine wire mesh filter to remove the spices and pear bits. Add the vanilla and salt and return to a high boil and reduce to a final volume of 1/2 a cup. This will be very syrupy. Run the syrup through a mesh filter again (no cheesecloth) into a new container. Set aside, taste what you made, and then clean your jeans.

Using a heavy spatula, mix the mascarpone and honey together. In a separate bowl whip the whipping cream to stiff peaks. [You only need a 1/2 pint of the whipping cream but it’s hard to whip a 1/2 pint so do the whole thing.] Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone.

Place a pear on a plate and fill using a pastry bag or a Ziploc with a hole cut into the corner. Add some syrup to the bottom of the plate, just enough to lightly cover it, and then place a stem on top of each pear. Serve with extra cream on the side if desired…which it will.

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