Saturday, February 11, 2012

Adventures in Produce: The Asian Pear

I actually had some trouble with the Adventures in Produce project this week:  as I browsed the selection of fruits and vegetables, I was hard pressed to find something I hadn’t tried before.  This might have something to do with the fact that it’s February–i.e., not the height ofresh produce season–but I was still pretty impressed by the breadth of my produce experience.  I almost decided to buy a few pitiful looking guavas, but at the last minute I had another thought.  Instead of something completely new, why not try a new version of an old favorite?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the Asian pear.

I’d noticed these pears before, mostly because they sit on their shelf in the produce section wearing these odd little woven-plastic shields that no other produce item is sporting.  I’m not sure why this is, because these pears are very firm to the touch.  It doesn’t seem like they’d bruise easily or need extra protection.  In fact, at first I thought the pear I’d bought wasn’t ripe enough to eat yet, given how rock-solid it felt.   A little research revealed that these pears are more like apples:  they’re picked ripe, unlike Bartlett pears, and don’t need time to ripen off the tree.   (If they’re soft, they’re beginning to spoil.)  Asian pears are round like apples, too, rather than the distinctive pear shape. Their brown skin is slightly thicker and more sturdy, though edible.  Online discussion boards revealed a serious disagreement as to whether Asian pears should be peeled before eating.  I like to eat fruit with the skin intact whenever I can, but I have to admit that I liked this pear better without it.

In terms of flavor, Asian pears are very sweet.  They have the texture of a juicy apple (something like a Gala), though they definitely taste like pears.  The Boy is our resident pear connoisseur, and after taking a bite he pronounced it “as good as any other pear I’ve had.”  The Hubs and I really liked this and each ate a half on our own, cut into slices.  I typically buy Bartlett pears when they’re relatively green because I prefer their firmer texture to the mushy consistency of a ripe pear.  The problem with that approach is, green pears aren’t particularly juicy.  In fact, they’re pretty darn dry.  The Asian pear is a nice compromise on both of those points: crisp but full of moisture, without the unappetizing squishy pulp of a yellow pear.

Overall, this one was a hit.  I loved the flavor all by itself, but I think this would be a really good addition to a big green salad, maybe with some crunchy almonds and creamy goat cheese.   The very thought of this combination is making me hungry right now.


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