Pears are the perennial middle child of the fruit family, says chef and cookbook author Robin Asbell: “Apples get all the attention, but pears deserve some love, too.” One reason for the cold shoulder often received by this cool-weather fruit, she suspects, is a ripeness-confusion factor.
“People are afraid they won’t know when a pear is ripe, but it’s easy to tell,” she says. “Just press the flesh that’s near the stem. If it gives a little bit, it’s ready.” One thing many people don’t realize is that pears, which are picked before they’re ripe, can be refrigerated that way until you’re ready to use them. “They’ll keep in the walk-in as well as apples will, and you just need to pull them out and keep them at room temperature for three to four days to ripen.”
Get started with Bosc and Asian pear varieties
Since durability is always a factor in restaurant kitchens, Asbell suggests that Bosc and Asian pears might be the best ones to begin menuing. “The Bosc is firm and apple-like. It keeps well and is handy in all sorts of dishes. I love them in salads because they stay firm, offer a nice snap and they’re fine if they are a little underripe. They keep their shape well, so they’re great for poaching.”
When it comes to using Asian pears, Asbell finds them to be “wonderfully crisp.” She uses them in salads and spring rolls, praising their “perfumy” quality. “I’m seeing them on menus more and more,” she says.
Past their prime? No problem
If you’ve got a batch of pears that have gone soft too quickly, never fear. One of Asbell’s favorite tactics is to prepare pear butter in the slow cooker. “It’s perfect for pears that are a little over the hill,” she says. They’re also a great candidate for pickling. “They’re a surprising little pickle and an interesting accent for a sandwich, entrée or salad.” Finally, she says, don’t forget fall’s most reliable cooking method: roasting. “Pears work so well in an autumn roast, especially when paired with sweeter produce like carrots, parsnips or beets. That veggie roast can be terrific on its own or with a pork entrée.”