Originally published in December 2014; updated June 2022.
Poached pears have such a lovely, graceful and elegant appearance that I kind of look at them as being synonymous with most any festive occasion, the holidays in particular. With their creamy white flesh and subtle sweetness, they are most agreeable to assuming a wide range of flavors… yet are especially delicious with the spices and warm notes we look to during the holidays… sweet wine, cranberry, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, vanilla, etc. And, perhaps the best part of poaching pears… other than their delicious flavor… is that they are relatively easy to make.
Let’s Learn How to Poach Pears with Confidence!
If you can boil water, you can poach a pear! After all, poaching is just the process of simmering ingredients in a liquid or water until you achieve the desired doneness you are after. When you poach pears, you are typically using a flavor-enhanced liquid that will not only impart its flavor to your fruit but can be used to serve alongside or over your fruit when plating.
When looking at images of poached pears they are often either fairly natural in their coloring, or deep ruby red, reflecting the color of the liquid they were poached in. Many recipes call for white or red wine, or some type of dessert wine. Others will note the use of a Simple Syrup (relatively equal parts water and sugar), or a fruit juice. Citrus or fresh ginger may be added; seasonings like cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, star anise, etc. are common; and sweeteners from granulated sugar to honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, agave, you name it, can be used. It’s really just a matter of what flavor profile you hope to achieve.
- Select firm, ripe pears (Stemilt’s Bosc and D’Anjou varieties are wonderful choices); preferably pears that still have their lovely stems intact (if serving whole).
- Determine your desired flavor profile. Basically all you need is a poaching liquid -– whether it’s a juice, cider, wine (red or white, dessert), or water that is sweetened up just a bit (sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc.). Essentially, you need about a quart of liquid for 4 pears. Then you can add some spices and seasonings for extra flavor, if preferred (citrus, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, star anise, ginger, vanilla bean, peppercorns, etc).
There are five key steps to follow whether you are learning how to poach a pear for the first time or are a master of the craft:
- Carefully peel pears, leaving stems intact, and place pears in lemon-infused water to hold.
- Heat poaching liquid of simple syrup with selected spices.
- Transfer pears to poaching liquid ensuring to cover the entire pear.
- Poach pears in a gentle rolling boil for approximately 20-30 minutes
- Test doneness by gently poking pears with a paring knife.
1. Prep your liquid:
If you’re not starting with a simple syrup (where your sugar is already dissolved in water), you will want to warm your poaching liquid until the sugar added has completely dissolved. Add selected spices. Set aside.
2. Prep your pears:
Add one cut lemon, gently squeezed, to a large bowl of cold water. This is where you will hold your peeled pears (to keep them from browning) until you are finished peeling all pears and they are ready to be added to your poaching liquid. Carefully peel your pears, leaving stems intact, following their natural shape (I prefer to go from top to bottom). When finished with each pear, stand it up on your cutting board to see if it will hold. If not, carefully pare the bottoms to allow fruit to stand on its own. (This will help when it’s time to plate them and you want them to stand upright). Then gently place pear in lemon-infused water to hold.
3. Start poaching pears:
Heat your poaching liquid over medium high heat, until sugar added is fully dissolved. Gently transfer pears, using a slotted spoon, to poaching liquid. You want the liquid to completely cover the pears. Because your pears may desire to pop up or bob, you may want to add a little weight to the top of your liquid to ensure that the pears stay immersed. I like using a lid that is smaller than the poaching pot… just big enough to keep the pears immersed but small enough to allow heat and steam to escape. Poach pears in a gentle rolling boil for approximately 20-30 minutes. To test doneness, gently poke pears with a paring knife. If the pears offer little to no resistance, then they are done.
4. Serve Pears alone or with reduced syrup:
Remove pears from heat and allow them to cool in their poaching liquid. OR, if you are interested in serving pears with a bit of their poaching liquid you can reduce this liquid a bit to make a light, syrupy sauce. If this is preferred, gently transfer poached pears, using a slotted spoon, to a large bowl. Then strain poaching liquid into a separate bowl, discard all seasonings, and return strained liquid to the pot. Cook liquid, uncovered, over medium high heat (low to medium boil) until it reduces by about half. (The “syrupy” nature of this particular reduction is relatively light; however, reducing the liquid concentrates the flavors, making a nice accompaniment to the poached pears.)
5. Serving suggestion:
Serve poached pears in shallow bowls with a little poaching liquid. For a festive holiday look, dust pears with a bit of lime zest and serve over a bed of fresh pomegranate seeds, if preferred. For an extra decadent dessert, try displaying the poached pears in a tart like our Chocolate Mousse Poached Pear Tart!
Let the Poaching Begin!
In the recipe below, I begin with four Stemilt Bosc Pears. These pears are a great choice for poaching as they’re not only a firm, crisp variety (one that won’t break down or fall apart when poaching) but also one that has an exceptionally elegant shape and a subtly sweet flavor that is already balanced with a hint of fall spices. Given this profile I elected to create a poaching liquid with this in mind… beginning with a basic bottled, organic cranberry nectar to which I added a few sticks of cinnamon, star anise, pink peppercorns, a touch of sugar, and a whole, quartered orange. The result is a subtly sweet pear seasoned with the holidays in mind. Served over a bed of fresh pomegranate seeds and lightly dusted with a touch of lime zest, these pears are beautifully dressed for the season.
For four pears, you need about one quart of a poaching liquid. Below is a Step-by-Step guide to getting your pears poached to perfection… and ready to serve.