Juicy, soft, sweet pears are a fabulously versatile fruit, and the generic "pear" on produce charts doesn't do this fruit justice. There are many kinds of pears, and an increasing variety of pears are available at everyday grocery stores. Once you dip into the world of farmers markets, the variety can be mind-numbing.
So what to do when you want to add some pear to a salad? How about if you're making a pear tart?
Or a poached pear? Different pears are best for different types of dishes since sometimes you want pears to keep their shape and other times you want pears to fall apart. If the recipe isn't specific, you can figure out which pear would work best with this easy guide:
Pears For Eating Raw
All ripe pears can be enjoyed raw, either eaten out-of-hand or sliced into salads. Here's what you can expect, flavor-wise and texture-wise, from different pears:
- Anjous are firm, mild-flavored pears.
- Bartletts are for when you want a really juicy pear. Really juicy. Like totally and completely juicy.
- Bosc pears are wonderfully crisp, with a delicate sweet flavor.
- Asian pears are full-on crunchy and very mild flavored.
- Comice pears are less grainy than classic pears, with a great clean and bright pear flavor.
- French butter pears and seckel pears can be eaten raw, but they need to be fully and completely ripe for the experience to be a pleasant one—even slightly underripe versions have a sharp, tannic hit.
Tip: Pears tend to oxidize or turn brown when cut and exposed to the air. You can minimize any browning in salads by dipping the sliced pears in a mix of about 1/2 cup water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice first, or by tossing them with a fairly acidic salad dressing.
Pears That Keep Their Shape When Cooked
When cooking with pears you want one of two things: for the pears to fall apart or for the pears to keep their shape.
When you want pears to keep it together, as when making poached pears or baked pears or grilled pears, there are several varieties that work. In most cases, Bosc pears keep their shape best (even staying put as slices in a pear tart, for example), but Anjou pears are a good option, too. French butter pears are also reliable shape-keepers.
Pears That Fall Apart
Sometimes you want pears to fall apart when you cook them—the case of making pear sauce or pear butter comes immediately to mind. For these recipes, it is to the Bartlett pear that you must turn. They look at heat and turn to mush. A mix of Bartletts and Bosc in a pie can be lovely—with the Bosc pears holding their shape as they're surrounded by a Bartlett-pear sauce.