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Port-Poached Pears (Say that 3 times fast)

December 16, 2010

Somewhat counter-intuitively, this is a great dish to make if, like me, you aren’t much of a wine drinker. I will have a glass and be done, leaving the rest of the bottle going to waste. On the other hand, I love things cooked in wine – it pushes the same buttons for me as coffee or marmite or bitter marmalade.

In this case, of course, I poached some pears in a sweet Port, which satisfies the sweet-lovers while providing me with me a tannin-fueled kick.

There are a few other nice things about this dessert: it’s elegant without being all that difficult, it makes your house smell great, and perhaps most importantly, it’s purple.

Ok, maybe it’s more burgundy or aubergine. Did I mention the smell?

The reason it smells so great is that you mull the wine before you poach anything in it. Start with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and lemon peel.

Throw it in a saucepan with some port, water, sugar and lemon juice. Ideally, you’d use a smaller pan so that the wine comes up higher on the pears. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for five minutes.

While it’s heating up, prep the pears. Cut a slice off of the bottom and peel the pear. I used Conference pears, which are the standard-issue around here, but I imagine you could do this with a few different varieties.

Drop the pears in the poaching liquid and let them simmer uncovered, turning frequently to coat the sides and bottom evenly.

Simmer until the pears are fork tender. This took me about 40 minutes, but recipes give a range from 15 minutes to an hour, so it must depend on how hot your poaching liquid is. Of course, cooking them slowly has the advantage of letting them soak up more Port.

Once they are tender, remove the pears and all of the mulling materials. This will stain the heck out of your wooden cutting board.

Then, turn up the heat on the poaching liquid. Let the wine reduce until it forms a syrup.

I was going to say the sauce was extra credit, but this syrup was one of the best condiments I’ve ever tasted – sweet and spicy and complex. Drizzle this over the pears before serving, then drink the rest with a straw. (All kidding aside, it would be delicious on some pancakes.)

I found the best way to attack this thing was with a knife and fork – a spoon works, but has more potential to make a mess.

If you have a sweet tooth, you can serve this with some dark chocolate and whipped cream or iced cream. Or, if you’re more a salt-fiend like me, you can have it with blue cheese and toasted pecans. Whatever you do, be liberal with the sauce!

Port-Poached Pears

Liberally adapted from Joy of Cooking’s Red Wine Poached Pears
Serves 4 (1 pear each)

2½ cups Port
¾ cup water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 pieces of lemon peel
4 barely-ripe pears

1. In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except pears and bring just to the boiling point. Then simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Cut a 1/4-inch slice off of the bottom of each pear. (You can also core the pears from the bottom if you wish.) Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact.
3. Add pears to saucepan and let simmer about 30 minutes until the pears are fork tender. Turn the pears often to coat the bottom and each side. Also spoon liquid over the top of the pears occasionally.
4. Remove pears to cool. Discard cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and lemon peel and bring poaching liquid to a boil. Cook until the liquid reduces to a syrupy sauce. Let cool.
5. Serve pears room-temperature, drizzled with the sauce and accompanied by blue cheese and pecans or ice cream and dark chocolate.

Pears may be stored for up to a day in the fridge. Store them in the unreduced poaching liquid to soak up even more flavor.

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