Asian pears originated in East Asia but are grown throughout the world today. The most common type in the United States is the Twentieth Century (or Nijisseiki). It’s round and fat, with a slightly flat top and greenish skin that yellows as it ripens.
With the crunch and shape of an apple, the grainy texture of a common pear, and the juicy notes of a pineapple, the lightly sweet Asian pear is a welcome addition to market bins from July to early fall. A relative of European pear varieties like Bartlett and Anjou, the Asian pear is great used in recipes or simply eaten out of hand. It retains a crispness that works well in slaws and salads, and it holds its shape better than European pears when baked and cooked. The next time you’re out, pick some up—they might well be your new late-summer love.
Asian pears are harvested at the peak of ripeness. They bruise easily, so they’re usually sold in protective netting. Look for firm fruit (unlike their European counterparts, Asian pears don’t soften when ripe), with few marks and a subtle floral aroma. Avoid pears that are shriveled or feel soft to the touch—they shouldn’t yield to slight pressure.
Asian pears have tender skin, so you don’t need to peel them. Try them raw: Dice and add them to chicken salad; slice thinly and toss them with mixed lettuces, nuts, and vinaigrette; or julienne and add them to a slaw. They pair wonderfully with pungent cheeses like blue, Gouda, or Cabrales—simply slice the pears and serve with the cheese of your choice.
Although Asian pears have firm flesh, they’re also extremely juicy and when cooked tend to give off more liquid than apples or pears do. Their mild flavor goes well with a variety of ingredients from the global pantry; pair them with ginger, star anise, soy sauce, five-spice powder, or even curry powder. We especially love them sautéed and served with pork, puréed in velvety soups, or for a special treat, infused with spices and honey as a warm, heady pancake and waffle topping. If you’re lucky enough to score a great deal on Asian pears at the farmers’ market, try this: Core the pears and slice them into eighths; then poach, can, and enjoy them for months to come.
They have a remarkable shelf life, lasting for up to four months in the refrigerator crisper drawer. At room temperature, they’ll sit happily in a fruit bowl for two weeks without losing their crunch.