Asian pears are a tough ingredient for preservers. So much of their charm is in their clean flavor and snappy texture and those are qualities that don’t translate well in a jam or butter. They’re also really quite low in acid and so have be to acidified aggressively in order to be safe for canning. Sometime ago, I determined to save myself the heartache of wasted asian pears and simply kept them far away from my jars.
But then, I got a copy of Karen Solomon’s new e-book, called Asian Pickles: Japan. Her publisher is doing this brilliant thing, in which they’re releasing sections of the book electronically in advance of the physical publication. These e-versions include audio enhancements and give you a chance to preview some of the content that the print edition will include (coming in Spring 2014).
Included in this lovely little e-book was a recipe for Pickled Asian Pear with Lemon. You lightly poach asian pear wedges and then float them in a brine made from white wine vinegar, sugar, and lemon juice. Strips of lemon zest and slivers of ginger add flavor (the recipe calls for pickled ginger, but not having any in my kitchen, I substituted a few peeled slices of fresh).
This recipe neatly dealt with all my asian pear preserving issues. It handles the acid issue with a generous application of undiluted vinegar. You do lose the crunch of the raw pear, but in its place is a silky, tender portion of fruit. I’ve taken to eating bits of these pickles pears with blue cheese over torn Bibb lettuce. With persimmons slowly fading from the seasonal fruit array, I’m happy to have a different fruit to heap onto my lunchtime salads.
You should know that Karen’s e-book isn’t simply easy little pickles like this one (though there are others that can be made with relative quickness). She goes into a great, useful depth about traditional Japanese pickling and offers details about the various techniques (including how to start and maintain a pickling bed), carefully explains the steps required to pull off the trickier ferments, and offers lots of helpful suggestions about how to incorporate these new-to-you pickles into your meals. For $2.99, it’s a serious score.
Pickled Asian Pears with Lemon
- 2 pounds Asian pears or any other sweet, firm pear (3-4 pears)
- 4 2-inch pieces of lemon zest
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 slices pickled ginger or several slices of fresh ginger if you don't have pickled
- 11 ⁄2 cups sugar
- 11 ⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- Select pears that are firm and on the small side. Peel them, cut them into quarters, and core them.
- Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, ginger, sugar, salt, vinegar, and mirin in a medium nonreactive saucepan off-heat; don’t worry that the sugar is not yet dissolved.
- Add the cut pears to the pan to coat them in the acidic brine.
- Meanwhile, fill a second medium saucepan with water and bring it to a simmer.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to the simmering water, leaving behind as much of the brine as possible.
- Simmer the pears until they turn white and are just cooked through but still quite firm, about 6 minutes.
- The pears should be pierced easily with a fork, but you don’t want them to overcook and get mushy.
- Drain the pears and transfer them to 2 clean pint jars (I used a single quart jar), packing them tightly and tucking them under the curved “shoulders” of the jar.
- Bring the brine pot to a boil, uncovered, stirring to dissolve the sugar, about 2 minutes.
- Once it’s boiling, turn off the heat. Divide the ginger and lemon zest between the two jars.
- Pour the brine over the pears in the jars to cover completely (reserve the leftover brine).
- Tighten the lids on the jars immediately and let them rest on the countertop for 1 day before moving them to the refrigerator.
- The pears are ready to eat in 3 days, but taste even better after 5.
- They will keep their flavor for about a month in the refrigerator, but the color will begin to change after 2 weeks.