Monday, 16 May 2011

Two Posts until Post Fifty: Poached Pears and Tart Textures

From time to time, I find myself craving a single ingredient and, given the time, enjoy playing with my food. A few days ago, that single craving was pear; the technique: poaching. Having previous pear baking experience, this craving certainly gave me the outlet to not only practice a new technique but to revisit two other culinary components: coulis and freshly whipped cream. And as I reflect on this post prior to its completion, I have just now realised the most exciting part for me was that I could use the one piece of kitchen equipment I have been equally craving: the sieve.

A standard poached pear recipe (of which there a quite a few, easy varieties out there) gives quantities for poaching multiple pears. I, however, simply wanted one pear and to poach any more for one person is simply unnecessary. In any case, take note the ingredients to follow are for one; as such, begin by bringing 3/4 c white wine and about 1 tbsp or so limoncello (go ahead and eyeball both) to a rolling simmer in a skillet (make sure you have a lid of the appropriate size). Cut a washed pear in half lengthwise, making sure not to cut out the stem. Place them face down in the simmering alcohols and add enough water to just barely cover the height of the pear. Add about 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, cover the skillet and allow the pear to poach in the liquid (at about medium heat) for about 15 minutes, or until a sharp knife can easily pierce the flesh of the pear. Transfer the pear halves to a plate, increase the heat to med-hi, and allow the liquid to continue to simmer away (in actuality, the alcohol and water is evaporating). While this is going, let's work on the coulis.

When I first tried my hand at making a coulis, admittedly by accident, I had done so by first cooking down some fruit, mashing it up, and then straining it. The point of a coulis, at least from what I can gather, is to extract the natural flavour profile of the ingredients, rather than altering it by a chemical process such as cooking. This said, making a fruit-based coulis is quite simple. Purée your fruit--either alone or in combination, as needed by your application--and strain it through a sieve. For my poached pear, I wanted three different coulis, one for each of the fruits I chose: strawberry (four, hulled and sliced), kiwi (one, scooped out of the skin and sliced), and mango (here, one ataulfo sliced). The strawberry coulis did not pose any problem for me, but I noticed the kiwi had really thickened because the seeds had been grounded up a bit; this also added a distinct bitterness while, though tolerable, perhaps needed some sugar. As seen in pictures below, the kiwi coulis was the thinnest of the three as I double strained it in an attempt to remove some seeds. Finally, the mango proved to be a bit difficult at first as there was not enough liquid to promote a smooth purée; to remedy this, I added a dash of high pulp orange juice. As you can see when looking at the full photo album, the sieve separates not only seeds, but fibers and parts not broken down during the puréeing process.

By now, if not sooner, the leftover liquid from the poaching process should have reduced significantly. Here, I was left with 1/2 c liquid, the perfect amount to fill the dipped space in my serving plate; carefully transfer the (now) syrup onto the plate. For this presentation, I sliced the bottom of the stemmed half at an angle so it could stand. After laying the other half, it's time to layer on the coulis. This certainly offers an approach to tasting each of the coulis in a rather artistically reminiscent kind of way. Whereas dishes, such as salads, are most often celebrated for a variety of physical textures, this particular dish celebrates texture through taste, principally through the contrasting bites from the sweet pear and the tart coulis. Each one is again distinguishable from the other by the concentrated taste of each fruit. Science aside, it's interesting to see the coulis resting ever so gently on the syrup, the coulis of which can actually be "lifted" to blanket your bite of pear; though warm, the sweetness of the pear, in addition, cuts down the very noticeable tart flavour again coming from the coulis.

As if this wasn't great enough, I topped all of this off with freshly whipped (read: whisked) cream (1/4 c, along with 1 tbsp granulated sugar). What could otherwise be construed as an indulgence, heavy cream whipped by hand is the most easily controlled (as opposed to using a mixer or even trying to finagle cream out of a can), and stands apart both in terms of texture and sweetness. It adds a counterbalance to the tart coulis, while being more cooling and refreshing rather than being heavy and overtly sweet. In addition, a light touch of cinnamon (both in the syrup and even atop the cream) brings everything together and is another layer of warmth added to the slightly warm poached pear. To view the rest of the poached pear photos, click here.

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