By Jeff Potter
A recipe excerpt from Cooking for Geeks
Poached pears are easy, tasty, and quick. And, at least compared to most desserts, they’re relatively healthy, or at least until the vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce are added. Much of our enjoyment of fruit comes from not just their flavor but also their texture. Consider an apple that’s lacking in crispiness or a banana that’s been bruised and become mushy: without their customary texture, their appeal is lost. But this isn’t always the case. Poaching fruits such as pears causes similar changes in the structure of the fruit’s flesh, breaking down cell walls and affecting the bonds between neighboring cells to create a softer texture that’s infused with the flavor of the poaching liquid.
2 medium (350g) Pears, sliced lengthwise (longitudinally) into eighths or twelfths, and core removed
1 cup (240ml) Red wine
1/4 teaspoon Ground pepper
Step 1: Place pears in a shallow saucepan or frying pan. Set the pan over low to medium heat, bringing the wine to a simmer and then poaching the pears for 5 to 10 minutes, until soft.
Step 2: Flip them halfway through, so that both sides of the slices spend some time facedown in the liquid. Remove the pears and discard the liquid. (You can also reduce the liquid down into a syrup.)
Don’t use pregroundpepper. Preground pepper quickly loses its complex aromatic flavors -well before it makes it into your hands – leaving it with just a hot spicy kick but none of the subtlety of peppercorns.
Fun chemistry fact: the boiling point of wine is lower than that of water. The exact temperature
depends upon the sugar and alcohol levels, and as the wine simmers, the ratios shift. It’ll start some- where around 194°F / 90°C. It’s doubtful that this will actually help you avoid overcooking the pears, though.
Pears are one of those fruits that are underripe until you look away and then go rotten before you can look back. To encourage them to ripen, you can keep underripe pears in a paper bag so the plant tissue will be exposed to the ethylene gas they give off. I find I can get away with poach- ing pears that are a little more underripe than I might want to eat fresh, but your pears should be at least a little soft.
Try serving this with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Or try poaching other fruits, like fresh figs, and using other liquids. Figs poached in port or a honey/water syrup with a small amount of lemon juice and lemon zest added after poaching are sweet and tasty.
You don’t need to actually measure out the ingredients. As long as the pears have enough liquid to poach in, they’ll turn out great. Add freshly ground pepper to suit your tastes.
Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter
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About the Author:
Jeff Potter has done the cubicle thing, the startup thing, and the entrepreneurial thing, and through it all maintained his sanity by cooking for friends. He studied computer science and visual art at Brown University.