Absinthe in Soup; Say What? (Part 2)

Manhattan scallop chowder with fennel -- with a dash of absinthe.

That was my first thought, too.

But here I had a big bottle of Absinthe Verte and no Pernod in the house when I spied a recent New York Times recipe for Manhattan Bay Scallop Chowder with Fennel.

The easy soup looked wonderful, but called for three tablespoons of Pernod. With its similar anise-flavor, I wondered if I could substitute my absinthe instead. ‘Course, absinthe is way more potent than Pernod, but that’s beside the point, right?

Well, when the nice folks at San Francisco’s Jug Shop got wind of my intentions after I broadcast my culinary plan on various social networking sites, they grew concerned. They told me to proceed with caution before passing “Go.” After all, Pernod is 40 percent alcohol; Absinthe Verte is a whopping 60 percent (120 proof).

So I stirred up my soup pot of crispy bacon, fennel seeds, fennel bulb, garlic, potatoes, plum tomatoes, and clam juice. The recipe called for 1 pound of bay scallops. I used what I had on hand — a 1-pound bag of larger Trader Joe’s wild Japanese scallops (20/30 count; just be sure to remove the tough small muscle on each scallop before using) — which worked beautifully.

Then it came to the moment of truth. I started conservatively, stirring in only 1 tablespoon of absinthe at first, then tasting. Mmm, totally fine, I thought. So I added another tablespoon, and tasted. Again, it didn’t seem too strong at all. So I added the final tablespoon.

The soup had tasted as if it was missing something before I added the spirit. But once that was incorporated, the absinthe really brought all the flavors together, and heightened the fennel taste.

This light, bright chowder was briny, anise-like, and sublty sweet from the tender scallops. The Green Fairy had done good.

Manhattan Bay Scallop Chowder with Fennel

(serves 6)

3 ounces bacon, diced (4 slices)

1 large onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste

Pinch of fennel seeds

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 large fennel bulb, diced, fronds reserved

1 fat garlic clove, minced

1 bay leaf

1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced

1 quart chicken broth

1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes

1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice

3 tablespoons Pernod or absinthe

1 pound bay scallops

Oyster crackers, for serving (optional)

In a soup pot, cook bacon until golden, 3 minutes. Add onion, salt, pepper, and fennel seeds and cook, stirring, until onion is limp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery, diced fennel, garlic, and bay leaf, and saute for 10 minutes longer.

Add potatoes, broth, tomatoes and their juices, and clam juice. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add Pernod (or absinthe) and simmer for 10 minutes more.

Chop fennel frond to yield 2 or 3 tablespoons. Add to pot along with bay scallops. Simmer gently just until scallops are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Serve with oyster crackers if desired.

Adapted from Melissa Clark of the New York Times 

Yesterday: Absinthe Makes the Heart Go Thump, Thump, THUMP (Part I)

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  • A wonderful combination! Fennel and absynth must go well together… Scrumptious!



  • Hi Carolyn!

    Interesting combo soup with absinthe…isn’t very common but sound completely full of flavors! A simple but so sophisticated soup 🙂

  • Sounds delicious! Good to know absinthe worked fine.

  • Excellent substitution! I like that you went slowly and tasted after each tablespoon.

  • Pernod is a brand of pastis, which was developed in the early 20th century to mimic the flavor of absinthe after the later was outlawed. (Henri-Louis Pernod opened his first absinthe distillery in Switzerland in 1797.) Because pastis was designed to taste like absinthe, it makes sense that absinthe could be used in many dishes calling for pastis.

    BTW, I too gag at the taste of most licorice products, and I abhor the flavor of pastis as an aperitif, but I love the flavor when used in cooking. Here’s an example: I learned this recipe many years ago from Roland Passot .

  • Here’s the link mentioned above, which didn’t display for some reason: http://xrl.us/bedjyn

  • That looks like a wonderful dish to try, Peter. Thanks for sharing it. So, I’m guessing you think it would be OK for me to use absinthe in the dish, instead of pastis (which, of course, I have none of at home)? Leave it to me to have nothing but absinthe around.

  • Oh man, this sounds SO good – and in this rainy weather I can’t think of anything more perfect! I’ve always been a strict Boston chowder fan, but this may be the one to even the playing field.

    William Brand – I’d be happy to help you out and take that last 2 ounces of absinthe off your hands – just let me know where to send the mailing box 🙂

    Carolyn – when the sales of Absinthe Verte start jumping they better start keeping you in good supply!

  • (Standing dubiously over in the corner far far away from that soup pot!)

    Hmmmm. skeptical, I am indeed. But, you’ve yet to steer me wrong. I actually did like the whole fennel thing a few weeks ago very much. If, as you say, and as I believe, the absinthe in this case accentuates rather than overwhelms the positive, I might be willing to give this a try. But, if you think I’m actually going to go out and buy myself a whole bottle of anything whatsoever in that flavor family of spirits, well… Nope. Looks like I’ll just have to wait for a dinner invitation from some chef with a more well-supplied liquor cabinet. I do believe you though — that bowl looks more than a little tempting 🙂

  • And then you went and made illegal soup by French standards. Genius!

  • OK, now I know what to do with the little sample bottle of Pernod Absinthe. Perfect, good recipe. Will try it.

    I didn’t realize it until an Italian friend told me, fennel grows wild in the Bay Area. We had a big stand of it in our rather wild backyard in Berkeley. She took it, sliced it, made it into a salad and put it into soups. Question: Could a few snakk slices of fennel substitute for the fennel seeds in the recuoe?

  • Bill, I think you could probably add more fresh fennel if you don’t have fennel seeds at hand.

    And Bill, I think a few loyal FoodGal readers want to come over and borrow some of your extra absinthe to make the soup with. See, you won’t have to throw out the dregs in that big bottle after all. 😉

  • Creative use of Absinthe:-) I (unfortunately) have a bottle of pernod that’s been sitting in my cupboard for over a year, so I look for any excuse I can find to cook with it since I refuse to drink it.

  • I probably should explain, Pernod, the original absinthe maker, is making it again, following the original formula. Don’t know what happened to the aperitif called Pernod. Maybe it’s still around.

  • Carolyn, I saw you tweeting with Jug Shop on this recipe. It looks delicious. Funny, I’m now craving Pernod. Makes no sense, it’s snowing outside 😉

  • Pingback: Food Gal » Blog Archive » Drunken Pasta

  • Judith Neuman Beck

    This is much after your post, but do you think a person could sub Anisette liqueur, which is what I have on hand?

  • Judith: I don’t see why not. I’m guessing it also has a potent licorice flavor? Add a little, then taste to see if the soup needs more. You’ll have to report back on how it tasted. 😉

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