Herbal Remedies: Thinking beyond brownies when cooking with cannabis

City Paper

Cooking with cannabis has always been part of weed culture, and there’s no shortage of resources, recipes, and forums, especially in recent years with marijuana reform becoming a reality. Most folks with an even passing acquaintance with the plant probably know that the psychoactive compound THC is fat-soluble, thus making weed butter by far the most popular way to utilize marijuana in food. If butter then baked goods, and thus cookies and brownies are probably the most recognizable THC-enhanced comestibles (except for that time I ate one unknowingly and almost checked myself into the emergency room). THC is also alcohol-soluble, and it’s very easy to make a tincture, aka “green dragon,” in a high-proof ethanol solution such as grain alcohol.

Outside of those two specific preparations, weed can be used just like any other herb could—a component in pesto, as a pizza topping, to season mac and cheese. But it seems that most recipes are primarily focused on maximizing THC content, with the actual flavor of the plant being irrelevant, or at best a pleasant but decidedly secondary effect. It’s often used in edibles to either circumvent the potentially negative health implications of smoking it, or simply because smoking it is not possible for whatever reason, and for medicinal purposes as well as recreational. But what of its purely culinary value? Some folks actually really enjoy the flavor of weed smoke—a friend of mine even declared he loves the taste so much he would almost prefer that weed not get him high so he could smoke it more often. Almost.

Short of finding some strain that is devoid of THC (or smoking only male plants which are lower in THC), completely discounting the effects of the drug is not possible. But I did (wherever applicable) omit the step of decarboxylation, which involves heating cannabis prior to consumption to convert THCA to the active compound THC. This process is an inherent part of the process in smoking or vaping, of course. But even without this step and even in stuff that wasn’t heated as part of the cooking process, you will still get high, so be prepared.

My research revolved around about 1/8-ounce of a strain called “Sour Jack,” which came recommended as a good choice for cooking purposes, mostly because of the aroma. This amount cost me $50, which, if you take into account probable volume discounts, would be around $300 per ounce. This is roughly three times the cost of saffron, often called the world’s most expensive spice, and about a third more costly than the precious white truffle. I counted eight large buds and three smaller ones. Each large bud was about ¾-inch long, and measured about one teaspoon when finely chopped. The aromas out of the bag were lavender, citrus peel, white pepper, white blossoms, and just a  hint of pine, all pretty balanced with the singular muskiness that is the hallmark of high-quality marijuana.

To establish a baseline I ate one of the smaller buds whole (and felt like a fucking crazy person doing it)—pretty neutral flavor up front, but then some lavender, sage, peppery spice in finish, actually more of a slight burn in the back of throat that was very similar to what you get from an olive oil that is very high in polyphenols. As far as texture, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a straight plant fragment that’s been partially dried—a papery, wax-lip sorta texture that sticks in your teeth. I chewed that little morsel for a solid five minutes—the knowledge that that bite alone cost about $4 gnawing away at me—and although I did get all of the above flavors, none were at even a fraction of the potency you’d find in any other common culinary herb such as oregano or thyme. For the other pertinent baseline, I then waited an hour before eating anything else. Result: no discernible buzz.

To see how it tasted in an actual dish, I seasoned a chicken breast with salt, pepper, and finely chopped weed, which I moistened with grapeseed oil to prevent scorching and then broiled. The flavor of the weed, primarily lavender, was definitely present, but very mild—certainly not enough to justify its very cost in terms of adding flavor. Because this batch of weed did see some heat I again waited to see if anything hit me for an hour. Result: mild body buzz, and some signs of early stoned thought processes.

I decided to go the well-established butter and alcohol routes to see how putting the weed in solutions that aid THC extraction might affect flavor or aroma. Because I (in this case) didn’t care about potency and to cut down prep time, I omitted any preliminary decarbing and greatly truncated the steeping process (which is often measured in days) to just two hours. I also wanted to avoid baked desserts, partly due to their ubiquity, but also because it would be very hard to detect any nuance from the already-subtle flavors of weed through all that sugar and chocolate (although the latter does contain trace amounts of cannabinoids).

I focused on a couple of basic sauces that could be used in a variety of applications. The first was a fairly obvious one: beurre blanc, except I call it beurre vert for obvious reasons, which consists mostly of weed butter in this case. The second was marinara sauce—tomatoes also contain compounds that are only alcohol-soluble, thus displaying additional flavors and aromas when cooked with ethanol, in this case weed-infused vodka. Lastly I also attempted a gin infusion, mostly because I like gin, but also because gin contains the same class of compounds (terpenes) as cannabis, which contribute piny juniper components in the spirit.

More surface area equals faster infusion, which means I had to go through the painful task of finely chopping those gorgeous buds), because I don’t own a hand grinder nor did I want to contaminate any of my electric grinders. To minimize any precious oils lost to the cutting board via crushing, I used the sharpest knife in my kit. The end result looks exactly like good-quality rubbed sage, and fills the room with its aroma. Pro tip: Underline your cutting board with parchment paper to catch any precious detritus.

For the weed butter, I forewent the 24 hours-in-a-slow-cooker standard and made a mini express version using a simple rig (recipes on the next page). The result was a pretty pistachio-green butter with tons of aroma that produced a beautifully nuanced, floral-yet-earthy beurre blanc. I tasted this one last, and although the cumulative effect of the rest of my experiments no doubt contributed, it completely knocked me on my ass. For those who’ve never used edibles before, the high is pretty unique—it’s a very slow and gradual onset, over the course of maybe 45 minutes to an hour. It really does feel like it originates in your gut, a sort of background hum that then spreads to become a “body buzz,” and finally hitting your brain. In the case of the Sour Jack strain I used, it was ultimately a very fun, giddy high, except toward the end about an hour before falling asleep it became intensely cerebral, with a flurry of disjointed thoughts and images, punctuated with some  fucking Jaden Smith-like existentialism such as “is the person I see in the mirror the same person that other people see?” Anyway.

The liquor infusions were much easier, involving simply chopped weed steeping in the alcohol for a couple of hours. Most recipes for ethanol infusions indicate decarbing plus a week or more of steeping. But even after just two hours, both the vodka and gin had taken on a definite greenish hue, and displayed pungent weed bouquet (although the gin’s nose was intensely floral as well).

The weed-vodka sauce was a real winner—all of the qualities of a plain vodka sauce, which adds a sort of dairylike richness and depth while cutting some of the acid of straight marinara, with bonus points of the aforementioned lavender, a sort of clingy, citronella-ish fruit note, and definite citrus peel on the finish. “I want that one on my pasta,” summed up one of my assistants.

As for the weed gin: It may because I used decent gin (Bombay) and shit vodka (Kimnoff), but the gin definitely benefited more in terms of mellowing out, as all liquors seem to do after being infused. Once again lavender was layered over the existing juniper and coriander, and it had a noticeably rounder mouthfeel.

 

Fast Weed Butter

INGREDIENTS

1 small pot or saucepan

1 small glass or ceramic bowl

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon finely chopped cannabis

1 metal screw band from a Mason jar

Plastic wrap

Water

 

DIRECTIONS

Place butter (chopped if necessary to fit) and cannabis into bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Place screw ring in pot and add water to almost submerge ring.

Place bowl on ring, then bring water to a bare simmer.

Cover pot and simmer on lowest heat for 20 minutes.

Allow butter to cool enough to handle before removing plastic wrap, then strain out solids.

Chill and reserve butter, covered or wrapped tightly, until ready for use.

 

 

Beurre Vert

INGREDIENTS

½ cup white wine or dry vermouth

¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot

4 ounces (1 stick) weed butter, cold, and cut into pieces salt

 

DIRECTIONS

In a small saucepan, simmer wine, vinegar, and shallots for about 2 minutes or until reduced by half.

Add cold butter pieces one by one, whisking rapidly until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next.

Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and whisk to combine one last time. Strain to remove shallots and any residual weed before serving.

Best served over a mild protein like cod or white meat chicken, in order to be able to appreciate the cannabis flavors.

 

Gin or Vodka Infusion (scalable)

INGREDIENTS

2 ounces alcohol

1 teaspoon finely chopped cannabis

 

DIRECTIONS

In a sealed container, vigorously shake alcohol and cannabis.

Allow to steep for two hours, shaking occasionally.

Strain and use immediately.

 

Green Dragon Marinara (scalable)

INGREDIENTS

3 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ounces weed-infused vodka

Salt to taste

 

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil briefly in a medium saucepan and add tomatoes.

Cook for 30 minutes, adding water as necessary, and salt to taste.

Puree with an immersion blender, or in a blender and return to pot, until smooth.

Add infused vodka and cook for an additional 10 minutes. 

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