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Absinthe in Soup; Say What? (Part 2)

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)