Sometimes the best combinations of ingredients are hiding in plain sight. Here’s one: Asian pears and tea. Freely interpreting the saying used in culinary circles, “What grows together goes together,” it should come as no surprise that the leaf and the fruit find their way into the same dish nowadays. Both originated centuries ago sharing the same geography in East Asia and today there are rewarding ways to enjoy them together.
To create an easy-to-make-in-advance dessert that would grace any holiday table, all you need to do is raid your tea cabinet (a grassy green from Japan or smoky black from China work beautifully) and source the fruit. In my part of the world now, all kinds of Asian pears are flooding farmers’ markets. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the round russet skinned varieties (Hosui, Kosui and Shinseiki, to name two) to pale yellowish green ones (Ya Li). Tea enters the picture as the basis for a warmly spiced-scented poaching liquid. Poach the fruit a couple of days before you wish to serve it, allowing the flavor of the tea to infuse into the fruit. I like to serve this dessert in large tea cups, topped with a billow of softly whipped, unsweetened cream and add some desirable crunch with a buttery shortbread or other crisp cookie (homemade or storebought, as time and ambition allow).
Here’s the method.
Tea-Poached Asian Pears
To serve 4
1 T. tea leaves of your choice
1 lb. peeled and cored Asian pears, and cut into large wedges (depending on the size of the fruit, wedge size will vary so simply cut into whatever size pieces you wish to serve; also remove as much of the woody core of the fruit before cooking)
8 ozs (generous cup) of granulated sugar
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
Peel from 1 lemon (use the colored part of the peel only as the pith under the peel can be bitter)
Optional garnishes: A dollop of softly whipped unsweetened cream and a shortbread or crisp cookie, for each serving
Bring 2 cups of water in a saucepan to the boil. Remove from the heat. Wait a half minute or so for the water to cool slightly and then add the tea leaves. Allow to infuse for up to 5 minutes (of course, steeping times will vary depending on the kind of tea you choose). Sieve out the tea leaves and discard and then return the tea liquid to a clean saucepan. Keep it warm over low heat.
In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, CAREFULLY cook the sugar over medium heat to caramelize it. Allow the sugar to begin melting and when partially melted, using a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, gently push the unmelted sugar into the melted part. When completely melted, carefully add the brewed tea, stirring with that same wooden spoon or spatula. (Note: as you add the mixture to the caramelized sugar, it will bubble up quite violently so be prepared to step aside). Stir gently until the tea is completely incorporated and no lumps of cooked sugar remain. (If necessary, reheat the mixture gently and stir until all of the sugar is remelted.) Add the whole spices and lemon peel and bring the mixture to a simmer. Now add the fruit and poach for 30 minutes. (Note that the fruit will not soften much; it will retain its crispness and pleasantly granulated texture.) Remove from the heat and leave the fruit to cool in the poaching liquid. Transfer all to a container or bowl with a lid and refrigerate for up to two days before serving.
To serve, remove the fruit from the poaching liquid and place it in serving bowls or dishes as desired. Pour a small amount of the poaching liquid over the fruit. Dollop softly whipped cream over each serving and place on a plate with a cookie as an accompaniment, if desired.