January 30, 2011

sake poached pears with star anise

Today I tried a new combination for poaching pears, and it worked really well: sake and star anise. I've had a jar of star anise pods in the spice rack for a while, but never manage to do anything with them. I think I've been intimidated by its potent licorice-y aroma and worry that the flavor will overshadow the other elements of a dish. Although I love fennel I'm not a big fan of black licorice. But today I learned that star anise can actually play nicely with others; in the poaching liquid for the pears, accompanied by cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla, the star anise imparted a subtle licorice flavor that was pleasant and not overwhelming.

The sake was also a winner here, creating a nice floral base for the poaching liquid, which I then reduced to make a sauce for the pears. The sake and spices came together really nicely, helped I'm sure by a pat of butter whisked in at the end, and the finished sauce had a balanced, delicate flavor, without any one component screaming above the others. Though I served the pears simply with their sauce, I'm quite sure freshly whipped cream and toasted, chopped almonds or walnuts would be delicious additions.

sake poached pears with star anise
I used Bosc pears this time; Bartlett and D'Anjou would also work well here.

1/2 cup sake
1-1/2 cups water
1 star anise pod
2 cardamom pods
1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 firm-ripe pears, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Combine the sake, water, star anise, cardamom, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and maple syrup in in a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Add the pear halves to the pot in a single layer. Cover with a round of parchment paper (this helps the pears cook more evenly; if you don't have parchment, just cover the pan with a lid). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the pears are tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes, turning over the pears halfway through.

Remove the pears from the liquid, raise the heat and boil until its volume reduces by about two-thirds. Strain the sauce and whisk in the butter.

Serve the pears with the sauce spooned over them.


  1. Sake is big in my book. But I never thought to do it as a poaching liquid! Especially with pear; I bet it was wonderful.

  2. Thanks, Jessica! I need to start cooking with sake more, for some reason I don't use it very often.

  3. Gosh, my CSA farmer just e-mailed that we will be getting several pounds of pears in our boxes tomorrow. Darn, now I have to get some sake. Is it sold at Asian markets? Is there a brand you recommend? I have never had sake and would not want to make a mistake picking one out.

  4. Hi Becky - I used an unfiltered nigori sake (which is cloudy and thicker than filtered sakes) by Fudo Myoo. I've bought sake at wine shops; I'm not sure if they carry it at Asian markets (the alcohol content might be too high), but it's worth asking since they might be able to point you in the right direction. Hope you find it!

  5. Wow! This looks fantastic! I am inspired! And yes, you can get sake at Asian markets (although I'm not a big sake person). Does it need to be an expensive one?

  6. Hi Lentil Breakdown - thanks for the clarification about sake at Asian markets. I think you could use any good quality sake, doesn't need to be an expensive one. The sake I bought was about $7 for a small bottle (350 mL).

    The unfiltered nigori does have a sweeter and more delicate character than some other sakes I've tried (some can be quite harsh), so that might be a good variety to look for.