Absinthe Risotto


“The Absinthe Drinker” by Viktor Oliva, 1901

We all have that one friend who’s in the habit of dating sociopaths. Or, at least people whom we suspect are now or will become sociopaths should the spirit take them. One such friend of mine dated a slew of them, one after another. There was one in particular who was a real lunatic: an astrology-obsessed, fundamentalist Christian who believed 9/11 was an inside job. He remained a virgin at thirty-two. He’d question my friend about her former lovers (he had no former lovers himself) to find out if any of them were non-white: he needed to ascertain whether, to his warped thinking, her nether-regions had been ‘tainted.’ Why my friend stayed with this vile wacko more than a few hours, even given her track record, is completely amazing to me.

While a teetotaler 99% of the time, the guy was, for some strange reason, an absinthe connoisseur. Perhaps for him it was an herbal remedy. Or maybe he just liked the taste. Maybe it gave him visions. I don’t know.

I have long been an avid absinthe drinker myself. Before I even tried it, I liked the idea of a green, hallucinogenic liqueur that you got to set on fire. When I finally tried it, while I was disappointed that I didn’t see green fairies, I enjoyed the soothing, mindful state of drunkenness it put me in, a state of wakeful delight similar to being stoned.

But getting back to the sociopath—he unfortunately came with my friend to my thirtieth birthday party, bringing with him an extremely good bottle of absinthe. Hours after the party ended, my friend broke up with him after he’d revealed he was a Tea Party sympathizer. Apparently, that was the final straw…Yeah, I don’t know. The crazy, racist virgin thing would have turned me off long before too.

Years later I still had that lunatic’s absinthe. Negative associations aside, I’m not in the habit of getting wasted at home and none of my friends had a taste for it. It just wasn’t getting drunk: hence absinthe risotto.

Risotto is one of those dishes I only like when I make it myself. Every time I’ve ordered it in a restaurant I’ve been served a heavy, starchy glob that sits like a rock at the bottom of my stomach. This recipe uses spring vegetables and is served with broiled shrimp.

While I enjoy absinthe, I’m not (unlike the sociopath) a connoisseur. I just like to set fire to things. I like green absinthe the best. The other colors (black, white, orange) taste the same, but to me if it’s not green, Toulouse-Lautrec just wouldn’t approve.


Absinthe (absinthe spoon stolen from Maison Premier in Williamsburg)

Absinthe Risotto

(Adapted from The Dog’s Breakfast at Food52)

For the risotto:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

½ fennel bulb, finely chopped

Salt, to taste

1-cup Arborio rice

1/3-cup absinthe

¼ cup lemon juice

4 cups hot chicken stock

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cups mascarpone

2 tablespoons preserved lemon rind, diced (make sure to rinse and scoop out the pulp before dicing)

1-cup peas

1½ cups blanched asparagus (about half a bunch, chopped into 1-inch pieces)

White pepper to taste

For the shrimp:

1 ½ lbs shrimp, shelled, de-veined

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons absinthe

2 cloves garlic

Zest of ½ lemon

2-teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1-teaspoon salt

Pepper (about 5 grinds of the mill)

1.)   Toss shrimp with oil, absinthe, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary, salt and pepper. Let it marinate while you make the risotto.

2.)   Make sure you have all your risotto ingredients prepared before you begin. Chop everything, heat up the stock and blanche your asparagus. Keep everything to hand. In making risotto you’re going to be very active for a short period of time and won’t have any down time for prepping once you get going.


Mise en Place

3.)   Heat oil in a heavy pot. Add onion, fennel, and garlic until soft and translucent, 10 minutes. Season with salt.

4.)   Raise heat and add rice. Stir to coat 3 minutes. Rice should crackle in the pot.


5.)   Add absinthe and lemon juice and stir until liquid is dissolved.

6.)   Start adding the stock in ladlefuls, stirring continuously. I find it helpful to keep a pot of it on low heat at hand. Keep an eye on the heat under your risotto. Make sure it’s at a low boil but it doesn’t boil too much. I kept it at medium most of the time.


7.)   Keep ladling in stock and stirring until your rice is fully cooked and the risotto is soft and creamy. This should take about 20 to 30 minutes.

8.)   Turn off heat and add butter, mascarpone, preserved lemon, peas, asparagus and white pepper to taste. Stir. Cover risotto while you cook the shrimp.

9.)   Place the shrimp in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil for one minute or so per side.

10.) Serve risotto topped with the broiled shrimp.

IMG_0472 Yes, I know the shrimp still have their shells. That was a mistake. Make sure to remove them. 


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