Sunday, 28 September 2008

Whaddya Mean Poaching's Illegal?!

There is plenty of uninhabited areas all over Manitoba where one can hunt, and regrettably where there's hunting, there's poaching. Fortunately, wherever there are kitchens there's poaching as well, though thankfully this kind of poaching is legal even over here. ;o) Until this past weekend I'd never poached anything before, not even an egg. However, two events occurred that had me finally inspired to try this method of cooking, and with a particularly special ingredient to boot.

The first event was a trip I took back in June of this year to southern Ontario, which included a couple of days in the Niagara fruit belt and wine country, and that also meant two dinners in some fine dining establishments. Not surprisingly, several restaurants featured dessert menus that included icewine poached pears, as the Niagara region produces arguably the world's best icewines. The second event was an attempted wine-&-dine potluck party I organized back in August, but alas, only three of us made it. That meant that I still had plenty of my Inniskillin 2005 Vidal Icewine left over at the end of the party, and as delicious as it was to sip the ambrosia of wines, I figured that I couldn't down the rest of the bottle, even spread over a time period, without some degree of self-peril (long story short, I've a low tolerance of alcohol). So, remembering the icewine poached pears of Niagara, I figured I'd give it a shot in making some myself with this prized drink.

Upon sifting through the Internet for recipes, I realized I hit a bit of an obstacle: to date I hadn't been able to find any wine poached pear recipes specifically using icewine. Of course, my resolve didn't let this stop me, and after sifting through a few poached pear recipes, I rolled up my sleeves and made my attempt from scratch. First, I had about half a bottle left of the icewine, so that went into a pot, along with 2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar and the contents of one bourbon vanilla bean. As existing wine poached pear recipes varied on the addition of other flavouring ingredients such as cinnamon sticks, fresh orange peel and even anise, I thought I'd keep my attempt as simple as possible.

Next, I'd bought 4 Bosc pears a few days earlier in anticipation of this weekend, so I peeled them, but did not core them this time, to be poached. As it was the first time I bought Bosc pears, I quickly realized I bought 2 ripe and under-ripe pears each, which in the end was a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to experiment two conditions of the pears under the same preparation conditions for comparison later on when I tasted them. Once the liquid in the pot was boiling I placed the pears in it and let it simmer covered over medium-high heat (which halfway through I then turned to medium-low heat after realizing how quickly the liquid was evaporating) for a total of about 20 minutes, rotating them every 5 minutes or so. Once I removed the pears and sealed them in a container to cool in the fridge overnight, I strained the liquid and boiled that down to about a cup's worth, which turned the liquid to a nice thick syrup. I also sealed that up and let it cool in the fridge overnight.

Last night I took one of the ripe pears and drizzled it with the vanilla scented poaching syrup for dessert, while tonight I ate one of the under-ripe ones. Though the sweetness wasn't overpowering, I realized it was still perhaps on the strong side since icewine is naturally sweeter than most other wines used for poaching, so cutting back slightly on the sugar is something I must keep in mind the next time I make this. The aroma of the pears mingled nicely with the flavours of the icewine, all of which ended with a gentle vanilla finish. Two things quickly became apparent to me about using ripe versus under-ripe pears. Ripe pears ended up being considerably softer, almost melting in my mouth, and they also absorbed all the flavours from the poaching liquid much better than the under-ripe ones. Also, adding other flavorings, especially cinnamon and orange peel, should add more depth to the sweetness of the syrup, and one of those flavouring ingredients could perhaps even counter the sweetness to a certain degree.

Considering this is my first attempt, I'd have to consider this attempt as being relatively successful. Certainly this will be work in progress and will require some improvement by the time I poach pears again, but at least now I have a good idea on what to expect as well as how the end product should be. This is definitely worth trying again, though, since icewine is particularly pricey, I'll likely have to wait making specifically icewine poached pears until there's a special event that warrants such a decadent dessert.

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