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When you poach pears, apples, or other fruits (or fishes!), it's hard to keep them completely submerged; they bob around in the simmering liquid like buoys. So how to keep them under water while cooking in order to achieve perfectly soft, evenly-cooked, evenly-colored poached food?
Turns out there's an easy trick for that!
Here's how it works:
Cut a circle of parchment paper to the size of your pot, then fold that circle in half and cut a smaller half-circle from the middle so that you end up with a parchment ring. Bullseye!
Lay the parchment ring on top of the liquid; it will keep your fruit or other food submerged as the liquid simmers. If the food migrates towards the open area, gently nudge it back. Get under there, fruit!
And, as AntoniaJames pointed out on the Hotline, this technique traps the steam close to the surface of the food (much closer than the lid of the pot would). So even if the pieces aren't fully submerged, they're still being well-cooked by heat on all sides.
I first learned about this tip when making this Pear-Custard Tart for Thanksgiving, but noticed that David Lebovitz wrote about the same technique in 2009.
When I asked him why you need to go through the trouble of cutting a smaller circle in the middle of the large one, he explained that this hole provides an escape route for the steam so that the parchment does not float up and away but instead rests snugly on the liquid's surface.
Which pears make the best candidates for poaching? Tell us in the comments!