Cocktail lore brims with stories of mayhem and madness wrought by absinthe, aka the Green Fairy. The blame for its deleterious effects fell on thujone, a chemical in wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), which along with fennel and anise was used to flavor the spirit and give it its green hue. A century-spanning ban in many countries followed, with wormwood-free pastis, a sweeter, licorice-flavored alternative, taking the maligned liquor’s place. The less-potent liqueur found its way into seafood dishes, soups, cookies, and cakes. But in time, science proved that absinthe’s devilish properties were just a Green Fairy tale, and its popularity has roared back in cocktails and cooking.
Grab absinthe for savory dishes and save its sweeter sibling for desserts. You can use much less absinthe to get the distinctive herby, anise complexity that works so well with shellfish dishes like this one—or steamed mussels in broth, or oysters Rockefeller—while avoiding the overt sweetness that pastis brings. Here, classic shrimp and grits gets the French marinières (or “sailor-style”) treatment with a splash of absinthe in both stock and sauce. It’s a way to add lots of flavor with minimal effort. And no one will call you crazy if you choose to sip a little while you cook.