With all the brouhaha about “edibles” these days, I started to wonder about the DIY version. After all, that’s the kind of kitchen I run. What are the basics a home cook needs to know to work with cannabis?
When I embarked on the endeavor of using cannabis as an ingredient, the thought that struck me most forcefully was the way that science crashes into our kitchen forays. Especially here, where the cook is meant to understand a specific component of an expensive ingredient to produce a desired effect. There’s no mere flinging things in a pan haphazardly. Eventually, with this cooking process, you have to keep a little scientific know-how close at hand.
But about that: It’s also a good idea to remember that you’re working with a plant. You know when people start to calculate how much lycopene is in raw versus cooked tomatoes right as you’re starting to toss a fragrant salsa together? Or when someone dryly chooses boiled carrots over roasted artichokes merely because they heard it has more of those tasteless, elusive entities called antioxidants? What a soulless way to handle your food! Equally as uninspiring is the tendency to overly fret about THC. Why not just take a pill? We’re home cooks here. Best to work with something from the soil, something that reaches its palmate face toward a wayward sun while roots burrow deep into the rich earth. In other words, celebrate this living system as complicated and alive as we are. For that, we have to allow for variation. Interestingly, there have been studies that show the other cannabinoids and terpenes that live alongside THC in the cannabis plant have protective and regulating effects. So embrace the plant—the whole plant—the relationships we can’t even understand in the plant—not just one tiny reductionist component of it. As the great food writer Michael Pollan says, ‘Who knows what the hell else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?’
With that, let’s stop here and take a moment to notice: Cannabis is gorgeous and fragrant, both alluring and funky in its breadth. Inhale deeply and offer thanks to the botanical universe for all its diversity. There are countless constituents in plants, so be grateful that this one has a lot of them. The one most people concern themselves with is the THC, and I promise to get to that, but I can’t stress enough, Cannabis is more than the sum of its THC. Give a moment to recognize that Cannabis has personality; it has imperfect flowers and serrated leaves and it secretes all these sticky, aromatic resins. It originally came from a mountainous region near the Himalayas, so it has exotic origins, too.
So now let’s get to cooking. You could always pull out a ceremonial pipe, puff at it as many times as makes you comfortable, then go indulge in the sensuality of making a meal. When you smoke, it’s easy to gauge when enough is enough. Not so when you eat cannabis. It’s a while before ingested weed takes hold (up to 2 hours), so start slow. Really slow. By the time you figure out your body is processing too much, it’s too late. All you can do is find some secluded corner and wait it out.
Now we get to the THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the constituent in marijuana most responsible for its psychological effects, and it mimics chemicals made by our own bodies, though some people have more of these natural chemicals than others. Since it’s an oily resin that is hydrophobic (repels water), it extracts best in a fatty substance (or in alcohol). Fats also allow the cannabinoids a delivery system that our bodies recognize.
It is possible to lighten the strong cannabis flavor.
It’s my preference to work with the cannabis flavor a little rather than trying to mask it. If you’re making herbed garlic aioli, for instance, the flavor is probably a welcome herbal note. That said, there are times you want to add cannabis to something that would benefit from a blunted flavor intensity. In that case, try toning it down a bit with JeffThe420Chef’s technique of blanching the herb. Put the herb in a tea strainer and plunge it into boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. To stop the cooking, place in an ice-water bath for a minute. Squeeze out the excess water and dry in a warm oven (175°F) for about an hour. Proceed to your next step.
What is this whole business of decarbing?
Some people recommend a preliminary step of “decarbing” the plant material by baking it at a low temperature before infusing it in oil or butter. Decarboxylation is a chemical process that has to do with converting a carboxyl group to release carbon dioxide. In terms of cannabis, it converts some of the plant’s compounds from relatively inactive forms into something that has psychoactive or bio-available effects. This process occurs naturally with time and temperature, as well as in the process of firing it up when smoking. Dumping raw plant material in whatever you’re cooking can give you disappointing results, so cooks recommend this preliminary step to jumpstart the process. The thing is, other cooks claim that heating it gently in butter seems to essentially do the same thing. I got so much contradictory advice that I decided to get all Cook’s Illustrated on the pot plant and try a few batches both ways. I made exactly the same butter with exactly the same ingredients (same cannabis strain, etc…) a few different ways. Of course, I had to enlist a panel of testers to help me out, and the results were pretty clear: decarbing made a difference. It seemed to open up the level of intensity. Because of this, I used lower amounts in subsequent batches, which is important on a few fronts. A lesser amount means a less aggressive, actually mildly pleasant, flavor profile. It also means you’re getting more for your money and you can splurge on the good stuff that’s grown in a way that matches your food values. But we’re home cooks here; let’s dispense with the fetishizing terminology and just call it what it is. We’re not “decarbing,” we’re simply toasting the plant material before steeping it gently in butter. That’s it. If you choose to do this, grind your plant material and spread it out on a sheet pan. Cover and bake at a temperature of 225°F (no higher than 240°F) for an hour.
What to steep it in?
To quote a friend who cooks with cannabis a lot, “butter is king.” Yes, I thought, in pot cookery, as in life, butter is king. Only he didn’t mean mere butter—he meant “budder” (his term, not mine). The point here is that if you want to get the most THC for your fat-ratio buck, use butter. It’s just anecdotal, but a lot of people who infuse cannabis think that butter has a stronger effect than oil. I think butter just makes people happy in and of itself. That said, olive oil and coconut oil make wonderful mediums for infusing cannabis and in my opinion, make more sense in certain situations, such as the above-mentioned aioli or in our Sweet Pistachio Bhang [tkrecipelink]. Also, I found a lot of people using a method where you steep the cannabis in butter (or oil), and also water. Before I found this method, there was always a little brown sludge suspended in the final product. When I started using the water, all that sludge fell into the water and the water went down the drain (don’t worry, the desirable parts are still in your butter). With this method, the finished product was cleaner—less sludgy debris with more intensely floral and piney flavor notes.
How much to infuse?
JeffThe420Chef recommends a gram or two per ounce of oil or butter. I recommend taking it slow, so let’s start with a gram per ounce. Let’s face it, if you’re making something tasty, better to make it so that people can eat copiously without falling into an uncomfortable stupor. Make it mild and let them have at it. If you want more, double the amount of plant material in your recipe.
As you adventure in the world of cooking with cannabis, let me know how it goes. With that, be safe and have fun!
In creating this recipe, I wanted to honor the flavor of the cannabis plant for what it is. Instead of trying to mask the aroma, I used it as my muse. While infusing the cannabis in coconut oil, I took long aromatic whiffs and thought of other spices that would complement what I was experiencing. Careful, though. This experiment was a success, and it tastes so good, it’s hard to stop at one thimbleful. For tips on how to infuse cannabis in coconut oil, go here.
Soak the pistachios for at least an hour, but as long as overnight. Drain and combine with the water, dates, vanilla bean, coconut oil, cinnamon, cardamom & rosewater in a blender. Blend on high until the mixture looks frothy and creamy. Drain in a fine mesh strainer, and then again in a nut milk bag. Add a pinch of salt.
Drink early in the evening, maybe during magic hour when the sun is just sinking and you’re meeting up with a friend you haven’t seen in too long. Make a toast together and savor with delight and gratitude, and know that sometimes you get a sweet hour or two to let life trickle though you and laugh your heads off in good company.