The majority of people voted for white wine, so I went with red. Why? Choose as many as you think apply:
- I am contrarian by nature.
- I have little respect for the wishes of others.
- Pears poached in red wine are prettier.
- I already had a bottle of red wine sitting in the pantry.
To doctor up my bottle of red, I threw in some orange peel, a cinnamon stick, a pod of star anise, sugar, and, as an afterthough, a couple slices of ginger. I let the mixture infuse on the stove for a while while I dealt with the pears.
Don’t look to me to tell you what kind of red wine you should use for this. Several recipes I saw called for Shiraz, and we all know the dictum that you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink. Personally, I say the hell with it, because you’re doctoring the wine up with a bunch of other shit anyway. In pretty much all cases, my choice of wine is “random bottle of X that a party guest once brought over and we never drank.”
If it matters to anyone, these pears turned out pretty damn good and the “random bottle of X” happened to be Heartland 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, all of which is completely meaningless to me. It could just as easily have been two-buck Chuck.
The pears, I can give you some advice on, because I don’t want you to appear on my stoop with flaming torches and pitchforks when you choose poorly and end up with mealy-ass pears. These are petite, tasty and firm Seckel pears, which are just precious when poached whole. As a runner-up pear, I would recommend a Bosc. In terms of poaching, Anjou pears are like the Miss Congeniality; they have their finer points, but should largely be ignored.
Your pears should be ripe but firm. You didn’t hear it from me, but if your pears are slightly under-ripe, as mine were, it all turns out okay in the end; you just may need to simmer them a bit longer.
I denuded the pears, cutting a sliver off their little pear bottoms so they’d sit up straight. Cores were left in; I suppose I could have gotten all hard-core with a melon baller and scooped them out, but diners should have to do some of the work, too. Plus, I don’t own a melon baller, so there’s that.
They went into the pot of simmering, fortified, sugary wine, there to spend about 25 minutes. You’re going to want to keep an eye on your pears, both because you’ll need to flip them occasionally to get them to color and cook evenly on all sides, and because the wine has a boatload of sugar in it and will boil over like a mothereffer if the heat is a smidge too high. And then the sugar will burn on the stove, and your kitchen will smell like tannin-spiked marshmallows. Hypothetically, I mean.
They’re done when a paring knife slides easily into the center of the pear without resistance. Ain’t they purty?
I boiled down the remaining wine until I had about a cup of thick, sticky, sweet wine syrup to serve with the pears. I also made an orange-honey creme anglaise to accompany them – orange to echo the flavor in the poaching liquid, honey to pick up the floral notes of the pears – but then I forgot to take any photos of it, so it’s like it never happened. Also, La Lebovitz JUST posted an orange creme anglaise, so I’d look like a total copy-cat and his is probably better than mine anyway.
Once everything was thoroughly chilled, I dished myself up a pear: pool of creme anglaise, pear sitting pertly in the middle, decorative swirl of wine syrup. Voila!
It’s a great fall/winter dessert for after a hearty meal; it’s deeply flavorful, but relatively light, and takes full advantage of the fruit’s natural sweetness and delicacy. Plus, you know, freaking gorgeous.
Note: Although the pears will cook all the way through, the color does not penetrate in the same way. DO NOT BE DISAPPOINTED when you slice into you pear and it’s not like carving up a giant ruby. Just be happy with what you have.
Red Wine Poached Pears
1 bottle red wine of your choosing
zest of one orange
1 whole cinnamon stick
1 pod star anise
1 inch of ginger root, cut into thin rounds
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 ripe pears
In a medium saucepan, combine the wine, zest, cinnamon, anise, ginger and sugar. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel your pears and cut a slice off the bottoms so they’ll sit up on a plate.
Submerge the pears in the simmering wine. Cook for 10-15 minutes (a lot depends on the size and ripeness of your pears), then flip and cook for another 10-15 minutes. The pears are done when a knife slides into the flesh without resistance, although they should still hold their shape.
Remove the pears from the wine. Continue to simmer the wine mixture until you have about 2 cups of wine remaining. Strain out the solids.
Serve warm or cold (I like cold), your choice. I’m not the boss of you.