Poached pears always carry the weight of elegance, finding themselves paraded out during special occasions, or enjoyed with cheese and wine after a fine, rich meal. Heavy stuff for such a small fruit. In this recipe, we move away from the pomp of the pear and let it rub elbows in more casual settings.
Typically pears get poached in wine with aromatics, herbs, and citrus peels. Such a wine treatment is a sure bet, but poaching is simply a cooking technique where the food is simmered in liquid over low heat until cooked. In this case, the pears are instead poached in tequila for a smoky and fruity flavor.
Tequila is made from the blue agave plant that grows in the volcanic soil from the western Mexican state of Jalisco, near Guadalajara. Distilled in one form or other since the 16th century, this plant is commonly thought to be a cactus, but it is a type of succulent. The cactus pear fruit, or prickly pears, actually do come from a cactus. The large egg-shaped fruits range in color from pale yellow to light green to brilliant magenta. While the skin of the fruit is tough and full of tiny clusters of spines, the jewel-toned fruit often tastes like a cross between sweet watermelon and tart kiwi. We're fortunate in Los Angeles to be able to find vendors selling the fruit with the prickly spines removed. You can often find the fruit peeled, sliced, and sprinkled with lemon juice and chili powder at most Latin specialty markets.
Pairing rugged prickly pears with soft, velvety poached pears may seem like an unlikely match, but the combination is divine. The natural sweetness of the pears is heightened by the smokiness of the tequila. And while I still enjoy these plump poached pears prepared in a more classic style at plenty of dinner parties throughout the year, I never need an excuse to share this decadent dessert with friends and family.