Food Pairings: Dinner and Absinthe

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I love to cook, but sometimes after a long weekend it can feel like work to me. After a begrudged visit to the grocery store last night, I came home with a beautiful head of butter lettuce, some Oregon gorgonzola cheese, locally-grown Evonuk hazelnuts and two Tombo tuna steaks. I knew what would put a smile back on my face: a nice dinner and a glass of absinthe.

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Tonight’s Menu:
Pan-Seared Tombo Tuna with Wasabi Cream
Butterleaf Salad with Oregonzola Dressing and Roasted Hazelnuts
Lucid Absinthe in the Traditional Preparation

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Absinthe has a nice way of pairing well with a wide variety of foods. It has enough acidity to cut through the fats in my dressing, yet it provides a nice, clean palate on which to balance a piece of tuna crusted in black peppercorns. All this magic in one glass, yet in order to make absinthe truly sing, you need to pay attention to preparation.

Properly-prepared absinthe is cold, a little sweet, and bitter enough to stand up to some hearty flavors. It is never consumed straight, and there is never a burning cube of molten sugar involved. So I set about filling a small pitcher with ice water, and let it rest to ensure it was nice and cold. Next I poured an ounce of absinthe into a glass, and capped the mouth of the glass with a slotted spoon upon which rested a single cube of sugar.

Absinthe louches as ice-cold water is dribbled over the sugar cube.

Patience is key here, but I knew that the payoff would be worth my time as I slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, dripped ice cold water over the sugar cube and into the waiting shot of absinthe. The liquid gradually formed an opalescent louche (the milkiness that is the hallmark of proper absinthe) and once the glass was half-full I knew I was ready.

Gorgonzola Dressing

If you’ve never made a veined-cheese salad dressing from scratch before, you’ll be amazed at how little effort it takes.

¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 tsp black pepper
pinch salt

Whisk ingredients together until combined and dressing is smooth.

The tanginess of the vinegar and Gorgonzola flirted with sweetness of the drink, and the cold from the ice water tamed the heat rising from the black peppercorn crust. Wormwood’s bitterness teased the wasabi into revealing its sweeter side, and the lush savory aromas of fennel mingled with the roasted hazelnuts for a flavor that lingered well after it was gone.

I’ve tried pairing absinthe with everything from rare hamburgers to grilled pizzettas with caramelized onions and smoked trout, and I’m constantly amazed at how well it works with the curve-balls I throw at it. What foods have you tried with absinthe? Fresh country-style pork ribs, anyone?

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Photos and text by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Thanks for reading.

21 Replies to “Food Pairings: Dinner and Absinthe”

  • Lance J. Mayhew says:

    Thanks for making me hungry this morning. We’re going to have to get together and cook sometime soon.

  • Sku says:

    Have you tried St. George Absinthe, from St. George spirits in Alameda, California? I prefer it to Lucid as it has more powerful herbal notes and is a bit less sweet.

  • Nick says:

    Beautiful pictures, and delicious sounding menu, too! One thing to be aware of; tombo (aka albacore) tuna typically contains very high levels of methylmercury. You can google around for varieties of fish, including other tuna species, that are healthier to eat.

    I’m going to try the Gorgonzola dressing tonight!

  • Thanks, guys!

    Sku, I haven’t had the opportunity to try the St. George yet, as it hasn’t arrived in Oregon.

    Nick, thanks for that. I know it’s not the best thing in the world for me, but does it ever taste so good…

  • Looks great, Jeff. Nice creative use of depth of field in the photos. I am now officially ravenous.

    Is the wasabi cream dairy or mayonnaise based?

  • Mark Morgenthaler says:

    That wouldn’t be a Canon EOS camera you using by any chance?

  • Erik – The wasabi cream is just creme fraiche with a little wasabi paste added. It’s a snap!

    And yes, Dad, that would be a Canon camera I’m using. Someone had to learn how to use it!

  • Jeffrey, could you please clear up the difference between Absinthe & Absenthe/Absente?

    I’m tired of people telling me how they tried Absenthe and I have to burst their bubble that they haven’t really tried Absinthe.

  • Also here’s a bit of trivia for you..the Louche was apparently designed into the drink – this was to prevent your servants from drinking your absinthe and then adding water to get the level back up.

  • ND says:

    Hokay, I live in a land where restaurants cook fish for 15–25 minutes on average. Please could you walk us through the steps to get those tuna steaks so beautifully pink inside?

  • I second Erksine’s request! Beautiful photos. Next time you’re in Portland, come visit at MASU East. I ordered in Lucid last week. Now I just need a louche.

  • Aimee, sweetie, I really hate to see you fall in with the wrong crowd, that Erskine character is trouble with a capital “T”. Trust me 😉

    However, I will say that the simple difference between absinthe and the commercial product named Absente is the absence of grande wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), which is one of the primary flavoring agents in absinthe.

    Absente uses southern wormwood (Artemisia abrotanum), which may yield a similar flavor, but it’s just not the same.

    Oh, and for ND, it’s simple. Use a very hot pan with a tiny bit of oil, sear for about a minute and a half on each side, and call it quits.

    Hope this helps, everyone.

  • Hey Jeffrey – this pairing opened my eyes! I never thought about pairing absinthe (or any other anisseed based liquors), as the flavors are so overwhelming! I’ll definitely give it another try as soon as I find a bottle of decent Absithe in Dubai!

    The spelling of absinthe is a point which is really confusing: Absenta is Spanish for absinthe, absinth is normally the spelling of Czech products and absenthe is of my knowledge just the brand name of a commercial product which is not really absinthe…

    Cheers!

  • ND says:

    Pretty cool! I usually like my steaks so rare, as we say over here, that a good vet would be able to bring them back from the other side, so this tuna will probably go down real well (although the missus is a bit squeamish—guess I’ll have to blindfold her…).

    I remember reading one of your articles about a guy who just drank Lemon Drops the whole night, and you commented on people not understanding the aperitif/digestif value of drinks. Which drinks do you recommend for this kind of purpose please?

  • Alan says:

    Good post you prick.

  • Alan Moss says:

    Hi Jeffrey,

    I agree that absinthe has a lot of potential with food, especially with fish dishes where the fennel content of some absinthes works really well.

  • Mata says:

    Yummy! Going to try that gorgonzola dressing soon! Wish you’d cook for me!

  • Dw says:

    I made this (minus the absinthe). It was really good! Thanks for posting.

  • Absinthe says:

    I am very happy that I found your blog. Keep up the good work.

  • DrewCrew says:

    What about with a dessert course, I was thinking:
    a Mochi Rice Cake or Roasted Pinapple, what are your thoughts….

  • Jer says:

    I like It goes with chips and salsa as weird as that sounds… It is the way that absinthe has this amazing quality to immediately cool and sweeten the palate. I have even gotten in to the habit of drinking mine even without sugar and it still does not cease to surprise me in the ways that it can compliment things.

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