Saturday, October 2, 2010

Poached pears

This is a stunning (and delicious!) side dish from my favourite Belgian cookbook. The recipe calls for apples, but I had these brilliant Flemish pears on hand and figured it would be great with those too (it was!). You can call it Poires a la compote d'airelles if you like, or even Gestoofde peertjes met veenbessen compote if you're really wild and crazy.

The ingredients are pretty simple. You'll need two pears (or apples), 2 1/2 cups of cranberries (they had them fresh at the farmers' market today), a lemon, and some sugar. (The wee glass of Delirium Tremens peeking out from the back is optional.)

I remember reading somewhere that the average pear is perfectly ripe for about three seconds, before which it's too hard and after which it's all mushy. This recipe avoids that problem by cooking them -- just make sure they're at the too hard end of this spectrum or you'll end up with pear soup. Ditto if you use apples.

You need to do two things at the same time to pull this off. The first is poach your pears, the second is make a cranberry sauce to put inside them. Luckily, neither of these two things is very complicated, so jump in!

Prepare your pears by peeling them, slicing them in half, and taking the cores out. (I use a 1/2 teaspoon to do the coring.) If they're too wobbly, trim a flat section off the rounded sides so they will sit nicely on your plates at the end.

Juice the lemon while you're at it.

While you're doing all that, put "a generous two cups" of water in a pan deep enough to submerge the pear halves. By "generous two cups" I figured they meant more than two but not three -- so that's how much I put in. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar to the water and bring it to a boil.

While your water is getting up to the boil, start the cranberries. Give them a rinse and put them in a saucepan with 6 tablespoons of water and 3/4 cup of sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then drop the heat to low and put the lid on the pan. This will bubble away for 10 minutes while you poach the pears.

Ok, your pear poaching syrup is ready to go. Add half of the juice from your lemon, then turn the pan down to pretty low and put the pear halves in. Then cover the pan and let the pears poach for 10 minutes (if you're doing apples, the book says it takes 20 minutes, so you'll have to adjust your timing so it works with the cranberry sauce).

Once the pears are done, lift them out with a slotted spoon and...

...let them drain on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.

While the pears are draining, add the other half of your lemon's juice to the cranberries and stir it in. (You can probably tell by all the "while this" and "while that" that this was a pretty chaos time in the kitchen -- but remember: no guts, no glory!)

Fill the pears with the cranberry sauce and serve with some other wonderful Belgian dish. Bon appetit!

1 comment:

  1. You just gave me a Proustian moment. When I was growing up, our housekeeper was from Belgium and she used to poach pears on a regular basis. She did not fill them with cranberries, but with Preißelbeeren. They were so good! I'm going to have to try this with cranberries in Texas and see if I can recreate my own childhood.