This week, I had the opportunity to “poach” a pair of poached pear recipes from two distinguished sources, chef Didi Emmons and Cook’s Illustrated.
Michelle and I made the first poached pear recipe at a cooking class at Haley House, sponsored by the Boston Vegetarian Society and taught by Didi Emmons. Emmons is the author of two cookbooks, including Vegetarian Planet. For $39 each, Michelle and I watched a cooking demo and then helped cook a four-course dinner, which our class then sat down to eat.
Didi Emmons’ poached pear recipe takes a fairly standard approach. The pears are halved and cored, and then cooked in a red wine syrup (red wine and sugar) until tender. Her recipe used lemon grass, which added a lovely tartness to balance the heavy richness of the wine syrup. She served the pears with soy vanilla ice cream because it was a vegan meal. The cranberry-red poached pears looked beautiful next to the pale ice cream.
A few days after our cooking class, I decided to make a recipe that I’d saved from a free Cook’s Illustrated email a few weeks ago. Sadly, the “Caramelized Pears with Blue Cheese and Black Pepper-Caramel Sauce” recipe no longer seems to be available for free on the site, although it only costs $34.95 a year for an online subscription.
Like Emmons’ recipe, the Cook’s Illustrated approach only calls for a handful of ingredients, but it requires much more attention. The pears are poached and then caramelized in a simple syrup (water and sugar). You have to watch the pears and the sauce carefully so they don’t burn.
I was attracted to the recipe because it called for salt and roughly crushed black pepper in the caramel sauce. Having recently blogged about salted caramel ice cream from batch ice cream and salted caramel on chocolate cup cakes from The Cupcakory, I was curious to see what black-pepper caramel sauce would taste like.
Plating the finished dish was like creating a sculpture. You stand the two halves of each pear up against each other, with a wedge of blue cheese stuffed in between, and then you drizzle the black pepper caramel sauce over it.
The result was a wonderful mixture of sweet, spicy and salty flavors. While Michelle and I enjoyed Didi Emmons’ recipe, we both preferred the caramelized pears with the blue cheese. But if you can find them, either recipe is well worth “poaching” for a fine ending to a fall or winter meal.