Saturday, 2 November 2013

Liquorice Poached Pears with Blackberries & Star Anise Ice-Cream

Pears are such a great fruit to cook with because their tendency towards being hard and a little indigestible is addressed during the cooking process.
All too often pears are only available to buy when under-ripe and can take an age to come to an edible stage. Oh but the sheer pleasure of eating a perfectly ripe pear... one that is juicy but not mushy or too soft and the child-like joy I feel when the juice dribbles down my chin. How disappointing it is to bite into a pear that is hard and woody in texture! I love recipes for poached pears because they usually require slightly under-ripe pears. The recipe that I have developed is one such example.
Liquorice is one of those ingredients that has become very trendy recently and is being used by many top chefs on their menus in both sweet and savoury dishes. For me, liquorice evokes memories of Sherbet Fountains, Black Jacks and Liquorice Allsorts sweets. I loved the taste of liquorice as a child and I still do.

The thing about liquorice is that you either love it or hate it. Liquorice sweets are not REAL liquorice which is the root of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. The sweets whilst they do contain the root also usually have an added aniseed flavour derived from anise, which is naturally very sweet and if not used judiciously can be unbearably over-powering.  
I have been thinking of ways that I could use liquorice  in my cooking and came up with the idea of liquorice poached pears. The big challenges were; firstly – how to introduce the liquorice flavour and secondly how to use it in such a way that it did not dominate the flavour of the pears.
So off I went hunting for guidance. I noted that many of the recipes that I stumbled across used ground liquorice root. I inquired at the local health food store as to the availability of liquorice root, but as I had suspected might be the case, there does not seem to be much demand for it. This was also the case at the supermarket. Having said that, I’m sure that I could get some in the Asia Market and I could also order some on-line. I’m definitely going to try and seek some out to satisfy my curiosity.
 I can be an impatient person at the best of times and was determined to try out my pear and liquorice combination as soon as was possible. I wasn’t going to let a little matter like the acquisition of liquorice root thwart me! I then stumbled upon a possible solution; one recipe that I found advocated the use of Fisherman’s Friends sweets and another suggested using natural flavoured liquorice sweets, which could be melted down in liquid. Given that the pears in my recipe had to be poached, I thought that I would add a few natural flavoured liquorice sweets to the poaching liquid. I added 6 sticks which weighed about 50g in total and they worked a treat, imparting a subtle but still distinct liquorice flavour which did not overpower the taste of the pears. I added other spices and aromatics including a halved orange, some cinnamon sticks and star anise. My daughter commented that the smell in the kitchen whilst the pears were cooking was very Christmassy.

 I am really proud of this recipe; it’s quite sophisticated tasting but is not overly sweet. I have served it with home-made star anise ice-cream, but honestly, a quality shop-bought vanilla ice-cream would also do the job!


Poached Pears:
6 slightly under-ripe pears (I used Comice)
500ml red wine (I used Pinot Noir)
50ml Cassis
50g caster sugar
1 orange, halved
3 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
50g liquorice sweets, chopped up into small chunks

Star Anise Ice-Cream:
284ml carton double cream
300ml full fat milk
115g golden caster sugar
8-10 whole star anise
3 large free-range egg yolks



Poached Pears:
1. Peel the pears, but try to leave the stalks intact as they look attractive when serving.
2. Put the pears into a medium-sized saucepan so that they still have a little room to move but fit relatively snuggly. Pour in the wine and add the Cassis. Add a little water if necessary to make sure that the pears are covered. Add the two halves of the orange, the star anise, cinnamon sticks and the chopped up liquorice sweets.
3. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to poach gently in the liquid until the pears are just cooked but still retain a bite….you do not want them too soft.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears to a bowl and turn the heat up under the poaching liquid and boil rapidly to reduce by about a half. Pour the reduced liquid over the pears in the bowl and allow cool. Refrigerate until chilled.
Star Anise Ice-Cream:
1. Pour the cream and milk into a medium heavy-based pan and add half the sugar and the star anise.Heat the cream and milk over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until it almost boils. Leave it aside for half an hour so that the star anise infuses the cream mixture.
2. Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the remaining sugar and beat with an electric hand-held beater for about 2 minutes until the mixture has thickened and is paler in colour.
3. Reheat the cream until it just comes to the boil, take off the heat and stir into the egg yolk mixture. Return the pan to a low heat and cook, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, for 8-10 minutes, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Do not allow it boil or you will end up with scrambled eggs.
4. Pour the custard into a bowl and cover with cling-film. Allow the custard to cool completely. Remove the star anise and churn according to your ice-cream maker instructions.
Serves 6.