Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: If it's shaped like an apple and crunches like an apple, it must be...a pear.
Asian pears are true pears, but in terms of figure, they look more like apples. They tend to be round and so plump that you want to cup them in your hands and just stare at their lightly speckled skin for a moment before you take the first juicy bite.
As with most things in life though, there are exceptions: Some Chinese varieties of Asian pears have the standard pyriform, or pear-shaped, figure that we associate with European pears. And Asian pears can have considerable variation in their skin too: Some varieties have smooth skin, and although we often think of them as a warm sandy brown (1, below), they can also come in shades of yellow, green, and reddish.
If you hear someone refer to an Asian pear as “russeted” (this condition isn’t limited to Asian pears -- European pears and apples can have russeting too), this term refers to the skin having a slightly rough texture that is often described as “corky” or “net-like.” Russeting is brownish in color, and can cover just a small patch or an entire fruit. It’s a naturally occurring condition on some varieties of apples and pears, but it can also be a result of weather conditions.
More: Treat someone you love (like yourself) to a box of the best Asian pears around.
Asian pears are ready to eat as soon as you buy them -- they’re picked when they’re ripe. Unlike other types of pears, which you want to eat when they have a bit of give to them, ripe Asian pears are firm. Even though they’re hard, they still bruise easily, which is why you often see Asian pears sporting foam net sweaters for protection.
Asian pears will continue to ripen after picking, so if you’re not going to get to them quickly, keep them in the refrigerator -- but let them come back up to room temperature before eating to enjoy their full flavor.
If you’ve got more Asian pears than you know what to do with (and in that case, what time should we come over?), you can freeze them for later. Our friends at Frog Hollow Farm recommend coring your Asian pears (peeling first is optional, depending on your personal preference and how you’ll be using them), placing halves or slices on a baking sheet, and then freezing. After they’re frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag or freezer-safe container -- you'll be prepared when the urge for pear cake strikes.
Asian pears are arguably best eaten out of hand, with a sturdy napkin to catch the juice dribbling down your chin. But sometimes it's good to change things up, so here are 5 other ways we like to use Asian pears:
- Try juicing them: Enjoy some Asian pear juice in your morning juice blend and save some to make Korean barbecue short ribs.
- Use Asian pears as a garnish: Let them get boozy in a glass of mulled white wine or chop them up into a celery leaf and blue cheese relish for sprinkling over celery soup.
- Slice them up; as Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini: The Essential Reference, notes, they're "so crisp-firm they can be cut paper-thin, their nectar welling up and pouring off each slice." Use your Asian pear slices in a salad with leafy greens, red onion, and cashews or in a greens-free salad with crunchy celery and fennel.
- They work in sauces too -- try this Asian Green Sauce, where they mingle with shiso, miso, and daikon.
- Use an Asian pear as a mug for a warm pear toddy. Don't forget to eat your mug.
More: Want your own box of Asian pears? Frog Hollow Farms grows the best ones around.
Tell us: What's your favorite way to use Asian pears?
Photos by James Ransom