One of my favorite things about living in Chicago is the abundance of restaurants. I love dining out almost as much as cooking, and the Second City is definitely a first class foodie town; one day, when I’m not a poor student anymore, I’m going to go lose my mind at Alinea, Charlie Trotter’s, and the rest.
This story has a point, I swear. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to score an invite to the opening party for Zed451. One of the “Harvest Table” features which ended up on every single one of my plates was the red wine poached pears with balsamic reduction. I kinda went nuts over these pears. They’re so simple, but the pear-wine-vinegar combo is excellent. One of the best things about an opening event is that the restaurant staff is more than excited to tell you about their creations. Even though I didn’t exactly get the recipe for those pears handed to me, I got a few hints – albeit vague ones. I decided to try (possibly in vain) to reverse-engineer the recipe and recreate it in my own kitchen. Here’s what I came up with:
In the photos? I think the pears look like fish…tuna with soy sauce, perhaps? In real life? Not so much. I turned the flash on for one of the pictures, and the contrast between the red and white is a bit more apparent.
Yep, this is what I was peeling pears for (see yesterday’s post). I’ve never poached anything before, but I love poached pears and thought it was a good idea to try this out for myself. Plus, the magic internet is a great resource for learning things: Cookery Online has a definition of poaching.
Poached Pears with Balsamic Vinegar Sauce
3 medium-sized pears, peeled and cored
1 1/2 cups red wine (I used Yellowtail Shiraz-Cabernet because it was on sale for $5!)
1 cup apple juice
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter
optional: Argo Tea Orange Passion Tea
Peel and core the pears, and slice off the top and bottom. Place them in a medium-sized bowl, and pour apple juice and lemon juice over top. Let the pears soak for a while – mine did for about half an hour.
Pour the red wine into a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Turn the heat to high, and when the wine starts bubbling, add in the granulated sugar and the apple/lemon juice mixture that the pears have been soaking in. Allow the liquid to reach a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low. It’s not quite a bouquet garni, but I plopped a tea strainer filled with Argo Tea’s Orange Passion tea into the poaching liquid for a minute or so while it was on its way to boiling. The tea probably didn’t steep, but the poaching liquid did take on a nice fragrance. Place the pears in the saucepan, small-end down. Cover the pan and hang out for 10-15 minutes. You can drink the rest of the wine if you want.
The pears are two-toned for a moment. Reminds me of those cupcakes!
My pears were extra-firm, so I let them hang out in the poaching liquid for 15 minutes, flipped them, then let them simmer for 20 more minutes with the wider side down before I turned the heat off. Put the pears back in the medium-sized bowl, and carefully pour the poaching liquid over top. Cover the bowl with a lid (or with aluminum foil if you don’t have a lid) and place in the refrigerator. When I transferred them to the bowl to refrigerate, they were soft enough that I could pick them up with a fork without having to stab at them, but not so soft that they fell apart. Allow the pears to refrigerate for several hours.
For the balsamic reduction: pour 1 cup of balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan with 1/4 tsp of vanilla. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium.
**This is the part that I’m not 100% a fan of, but I gave it a try anyhow. It’s optional. Add 1/4 cup of the poaching liquid to the balsamic reduction.**
Cook until the liquid has been reduced to about 1/3 of a cup, then add a tablespoon of brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat.
Slice up 2 tbsp of butter and place in a small bowl. Pour the balsamic reduction over top, and stir until the butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Place in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, stir until the solids have blended back into the sauce and it has a texture similar to light maple syrup.
Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and slice into small pieces. The outside will be a dark red, while the inside will be white or light pink. Drizzle with the balsamic sauce and serve.
A few important notes about these pears:
These aren’t the same pears as the ones at Zed451. Repeat: not the same. I thought I was going to replicate them, but ended up with something very different. Also, I left out the crumbled blue cheese because…blue cheese freaks me out crumbled gorgonzola cheese, because I thought it was blue cheese, and blue cheese freaks me out. They’re still tasty, and I believe Bob Ross would call this a “happy accident.”
This recipe is not final, and is going to be tweaked. I just wanted to post it now because (a) I like the photos, (b) it’s not terrible as-is, and (c) maybe someone who knows Zed451’s recipe will find this and forward the actual recipe to me (Eh? Eh? The email addy is therecklesschef AT gmail DOT com). Eventually, I’ll poach pears again, and maybe by then I’ll have figured out some new tricks.
I tried the pears with the sauce right after the sauce was made. My immediate thought before tasting them was “wow, this is going to be so sour.” It was. Overnight in the fridge, soaking in the poaching liquid, did wonders for the pears. The texture is flawless (crisp but not crunchy) and the flavor is much better. The time the reduction spent chilling in the fridge (in a tupperware container) initially worried me, because the butter had solidified and separated, but a quick stir brought the sauce back to a good consistency.
The pears are very tangy, and definitely meant to be consumed in small quantities, but I’m a fan.
As for the plating? I’m still figuring that part out. I need to either stop moving the plate around so much during the photography part, or settle on a thicker sauce.