We had our first mini dinner-party in our new place in London last week, so I decided to make poached pears for dessert, as in my view, these are the most stylish way there is to end a meal.
They remind me of dinner parties at home back in the 90s, when my mum would reappear after the meal with a cold bowl of crème fraîche & a steaming casserole pot of a dozen pears that had been poached in an exotic & effortlessly glamorous combination of honey, orange juice and, most unusually, black pepper. The black pepper cooked out to a delicate, vaguely Asian gentle warmth that Jamie Oliver would no doubt describe as a ‘hum’… and our guests inevitably adored them every single time.
Furthermore, although poached pears look fairly complex; elegant & structural in their pale, syrupy nakedness; they couldn’t be easier to make & actually benefit from being poached hours in advance & left to sit quietly in their casserole dish – making them a great option for when you have friends coming for food but not a lot of time or inclination to slave over a hot stove on either side of the meal.
Regardless of what flavour combination you choose for your poaching syrup, poached pears of any sort make a beautifully impressive dessert even when they’re kept completely simple, with just a dollop of crème fraîche on the side for adornment. [Although, that said, gilding the lily with them is totally okay too, as O’Connell’s of Donnybrook do, cloaking their beautiful Irish pear belle hélène with a rich, velvety smooth chocolate sauce & Rossmore vanilla ice cream to absolutely no complaints whatsoever around the dining room].
GIN & TONIC POACHED PEARS
The gin & tonic combination in these poached pears came about sort of by accident due to having no wine opener (or wine for that matter) in our new place to make my usual poaching recipe, but the G&T version turned out to be a real revelation – the gin gives a light bitterness that works beautifully as a counterpoint to the sweet fruitiness of the pear, and the various aromatics play out nicely against the delicate creaminess of the crème fraîche. Even Ryan, who, for some reason that is utterly beyond me, usually refuses to eat pears ordinarily, went back for a second – a pear ‘belle Ellen’ if you will.
4 firm, slightly underripe green pears
A measure of gin (around 35ml)
1 small can of tonic
Sprigs of thyme & rosemary
4.5 generously heaped tablespoons of sugar
A couple of coriander seeds or juniper berries if you have them
Place the sugar, water, gin, tonic & aromatics in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a simmer. Lower the pears into the syrup. The pears need to be covered by the liquid, so if they’re not, add a bit more water, a small amount more sugar & a dash more gin. Poach the pears at a gentle simmer for around 12-15 minutes over a medium heat, or until the pears are tender but not soft. Consistency wise, you need to be able to dig into them with a spoon, if that makes sense. Serve the pears with a sprig of thyme on top, crème fraîche & some of the poaching liquor on the side.
If you’re feeling extra luxurious, chocolate sauce is undeniably lovely with them too. To make a quick chocolate sauce, heat a small pot of double cream in a saucepan until just coming to the boil & remove from the heat. Break up a bar of good quality dark chocolate, add to the pot with a drop of vanilla extract, then stir vigorously until you have a smooth, luscious sauce to drown the pears in.