Hibiscus-Poached Quince Looks Like Nothing Else on Your Winter Table

While the yellow-green orbs of quince are cousins to apples and pears, they taste different enough to seem like distant relatives.

Quince are bitter with just a touch of sweetness. They’re astringent. They say, “Yes, you can eat me raw, if you dare.” (Quince are actually like persimmons and develop sweetness when they are very, very, very ripe—riper than you think should be possible.)

Yes, you can eat me raw, if you dare.

But there’s a way to tame that astringency: Poach ‘em! If you cook them right (see below), poached quince are lightly sweet with the right amount of crunch. As is not true of most foods, poached quince is as good on ice cream as on crostini, where it makes a pretty (pink!) appetizer that looks like a million bucks but is silly easy to prepare. And the poaching liquid can also be turned into a number of things (you'll have to read on to find out exactly what—it's too good to spoil right now).

Pretty as a pink picture. Photo by Bobbi Lin

We asked our Test Kitchen Chef Josh Cohen to show us how to poach (and tame) quince. Here’s what he taught us:

Prep your quince.

Peel, core, and cut the quince into quarters (we started with three quince, but you can obviously use more depending on how many people you're serving). If you’re struggling to remove the core and seeds, Josh suggests using a melon baller. That’s it! You’re ready to poach now.

Poach it.

Take a big pot and fill it halfway with water. Bring it to a boil and add three bags of hibiscus tea (you can use another tea, like a smoky oolong, however hibiscus tea tints the quince a pretty pink color) and 1/3 cup honey or granulated sugar. You can use more or less sugar to taste—less will make the final product more pucker-worthy.

For a pinker color on the outside of the quince, add a sliced raw red beet along with the hibiscus tea. Without the beet, Josh says, the quince will look slightly pink on the outside, “but the beet prevents that pink color from turning grey over time, which can happen" if you use tea only.

Get creative with any your other add-ins, like:

  • Dried rose petals
  • A bay leaf
  • Fresh herbs, like thyme or rosemary
  • Peppercorns
  • Cardamom pods
  • Citrus rind
  • Sliced ginger

After you add the tea (and whatever else you'd like), drop the heat to a low simmer and add the quince.

Now, this part is important: Do not overcook your quince, which will make it mealy. Josh suggests thinking about cooking the quince like cooking pasta: “until it is al dente and not until it is mush.” Start checking the quince after 10 to 15 minutes. You want it to be cooked, not soft.

When the quince are done, let them cool in their cooking liquid. Store them in the fridge (still in their cooking liquid) and serve them the next day—after they’ve really had some time to absorb those flavorings.

Now, what to do with the quince.

You could treat poached quince like poached pears and serve them with vanilla ice cream. But if you use only a small amount sugar in your tea poaching liquid, the quince can be a savory crostini topping.

To make crostini, brush baguette slices with olive and bake at 375° F or 400° F until they’re crisp on the edges but still a little soft in the middle. Spread some feta (or your favorite soft and salty cheese) on the crostini, top with a piece or two of quince, garnish with very thinly sliced basil (chiffonade, please!), a drizzle of olive oil, and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

As for what to do with the rest of the poached quince, try it on baked cheese, perched on shortbread, on top of delicate custard, with clafoutis, or on your morning porridge.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

But, wait: This recipe Not Recipe keeps on giving! Put that leftover cooking liquid in a saucepan and reduce it down to a sweet syrup. Use it on top off ice cream or mix it into seltzer for a soda-type drink. You could also skip the reducing and just add ice cubes to the leftover cooking liquid and drink it like you would any ol’ iced tea.

Tell us: How else do you use quince?

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