Wine Poached Pears
Wine-poached pears, are fantastic and I call them “ my little jewels” on the plate.
On my winter menu you will find a composed salad with butter lettuces, Belgian endive, these wine-poached pears, candied nuts and shaved aged cheese.
There is no lack of fantastic salad greens to choose from here in Northern California right now. I sometimes use spicy arugula or another wintergreen – chicory, curly endive, mustard green, and a little radicchio to add a bitter-sweet assertive “ting” to the mix. Super fresh rocket (aka arugula) works really well too, as does fresh live watercress, if you want to blow people’s minds.
To poach pears you’ll need:
4 - qtr saucepan
Parchment paper lid, a small plate or lid/cover that fits inside the saucepan, to help submerge the pears in their poaching liquid
1 cup sugar
4 cups filtered water
1 vanilla bean cut in half length-wise
1 750 ml bottle good-quality chardonnay
1 lemon cut in half
4-5 California Anjou, Bartlett or Comice pears
An airtight container to store the pears and their liquid
Two metal bowls, a strainer (or colander) and lots of ice
There’s more than one way to peal a pear. Here are two.
Use a paring knife. I like a slightly flexible blade (I use Opinel, like a French guy). Most Sabatier and Henkel paring knives can be a little too stiff, so save them for other vegetable prep tasks.
Use a good peeler: Oxo brand makes terrific peelers, and I’ll treat myself to a new peeler once a year to try a new shape and size. Regardless of the handle shape, the blade should peel the fruit in either direction, forward or backwards, and it should be very, very sharp. Which makes very quick work of 4-5 pears.
1. Cut the very bottom off each pear to make them uniform and sit up. Peel the pears in long stands, top to bottom, tip to base. Leave the stem intact, if you like. Using a big knife cut the peeled pear lengthwise in thirds (that’s two lengthwise cuts), leaving the center slice with the seeds in the middle, including the stem, along with two “fat” pear slices, with their rounded bottoms. I’ll use a melon baller to scoop out any seeds in these two pear sections if I have to.
2. Prep: In a deep 4-quart saucepan combine the wine, vanilla bean, sugar, the pears and a cut-up lemon. Add enough filtered water to cover the pears. Make a parchment paper lid and place it on the surface of the liquid. Weigh the pears down with a plate or a pan lid on top of the parchment paper, which should keep the pears submerged while they cook. The pears need to poach in the liquid.
3. Heat: Bring the pears to a boil, stir once to dissolve the sugar, then simmer slow over low heat about 30 minutes, till they are poached. Test a center section with the tip of your paring knife: there should be little resistance when they’re done.
4. Now it’s time to chill. When the pears are poached (not mushy, yet still firm), strain the liquid into a colander filled with ice - I do this 2-3 times in rapid succession - to bring the temperature of the poaching liquid down quickly. As soon as the liquid is cold, pour it over the pears, which should reside in their container. Discard the sliced lemon and any random lemon seeds. Save the vanilla bean tho, which goes in with the pears. Cover with your parchment paper lid, with the pears submerged in the liquid. The pears will keep two week in an airtight container in the fridge.
Using wine-poached pears in a salad
Now that you’ve got you own wine-poached pears in the fridge, here’s how I use them. Trim and cut the pear slices into large dice (about the size of your thumbnail) and serve them scattered around with a well-dressed butter lettuce salad, perhaps with cut-up Belgian endive, bitter winter greens, shaved aged goat cheese and candied walnuts.
Dressed with a spiced apple cider and Dijon mustard vinaigrette adds a savory acidity, leaning towards a great white wine paring, specifically a chardonnay, a pinot gris or a gewürztraminer.
To make candied walnuts: make a meringue (with about half the sugar of regular meringue), with egg whites, sugar, some brown sugar, good sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Mix well, toss to coat raw walnut halves and turn the coated walnuts out onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes in a 350-degree oven, till golden brown and toasted. Also great on a cheese board peeps.
For this salad: Don’t miss out on the cheese. Blue cheese, if you can handle it, but my fav is a shave aged goat cheese – which is almost like a parm or an aged gouda, all of which can be shaved with a peeler on top of a salad, just before serving