July 19, 2017
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High Cuisine
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We have moved on from the pot brownie. A former Cook’s Illustrated staffer has cracked the cannabis code. That is, cooking smartly and deliciously with these newly legalized herbs. 

I’m sitting at Coquine, a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, and I’m about to score a whole lot of weed. Like, nearly half a pound of it. Some might call this a drug deal. Nope. First, there is no deal being made, because I am offering no money. Second, in my opinion, weed is not a drug but more like basil with benefits. I mean, our bodies even have an entire internal regulatory system—the endocannabinoid system—for receiving and processing cannabinoids (one of which is THC, the cannabinoid that gets you high), making it just about impossible to OD on herb (though you can have a bad experience if you overdo it…like a well-regarded New York Times journalist did).

So why exactly am I in Portland readying myself to receive four quart-size zip-top bags of vacuum-packed Pineapple Kush and Jesus OG? Because I am working on recipes for the cookbook, Cooking With Herb, that I’m collaborating on with Cedella Marley, daughter of legendary herb enthusiasts Bob and Rita and the CEO of Tuff Gong International, the label that her dad and the Wailers founded back in 1970. Cannabis has long been associated with reggae and Rastafarian culture, and the Marley family recently launched a branded line of herb and smoking accessories sold under the label Marley Natural. It only made sense that the family’s love of food and cooking be married with herb now that edibles are becoming so popular where some form of cannabis is legal (26 states plus D.C.).

Cedella turned to me to figure out the best ways to spike her food, and to explain to readers just getting into cooking with cannabis the hows and whys of doing so. With two decades of recipe development experience, and as a former staffer at Cook’s Illustrated, I can honestly say my expertise when it came to cooking with herb going in was nil. Now, ask me anything and I can tell you how—and why.

I spoke to experts and award-winning medical-marijuana patient advocates to find out the best ways to cook with herb. There’s a lot of bunk information out there about cooking with cannabis, along with thousands of web pages devoted to bad recipes and infusion methods that are based on nothing other than “tasted good to me and fucked me up” reasoning. We didn’t want that. We wanted enhanced recipes that offered the same high as having a glass or two of wine.

In the beginning, it was just about re-creating Cedella’s fantastic recipes—like banana fritters, curry rundown, and roti—in my home kitchen. Once they were all tested and vetted, phase two kicked in: Make sure they work with cannabis, make sure they taste good, make sure no one curls up in the corner of the room because I overdosed the recipe.

Since buying and having weed is legal in Portland, it’s where I’ve decamped to cross-test with weed. (I know, my life is tough, but I try to soldier on.) So that’s how I found myself at Coquine with a DEA agent turned edibles kitchen inspector (let’s call him the Inspector) and a cannabis “sourcer” (yes, his job is to hunt down the best strains of weed in the world—I’ll call him The Hunter); they both work with Marley Natural, and Cedella arranged for them to hook me up.

After dinner, The Inspector and The Hunter led me to a pickup truck. The Inspector reached in his car and grabbed a tote bag with a big medical cross emblazoned on one side. He handed it to me. I opened the tote, and staring back at me were four bags, packed and loaded with vibrant green, healthy buds and flowers—more than I’d ever seen or held up to that point. Manna.

Into the kitchen I went to cook up cannabutter, cannaoil, cannabis-spiked spice blends and cannabis vanilla extract. (And a huge thank-you goes out to my friend, let’s call her MJ, whom I stayed with and in whose house I cooked major quantities of cannabutter and cannaoil…and whose husband accidentally ate too much of the jerk caramel corn despite my warnings about dosage and serving sizes! Sorry, MJ’s husband.) This is where I started to unlock the secrets.

In the olden days, people famously crumbled herb into brownie batter and baked it up, yielding what you would call pot brownies. But here’s what I soon realized: You might as well just blitz up some hundred-dollar bills in the food processor and add it to the batter because if that’s your preferred method for cooking with herb, you’re doing it wrong. We’re in the 21st century, and there are better ways. Think infusing weed into butter, coconut oil, or olive oil, or “decarbing” ground herb in a warm oven to activate the THC. When you infuse the herb in hot fat, it is decarbing at the same time—meaning you’re turning on the THC by heating it and removing a carbon atom from the chemical composition of the cannabis. Oven-dried herb (which is also decarbed) can be used as a spice blend or to infuse vanilla extract or alcohol.

Cooking with herb is FUN times, but there is also great responsibility required—infusing butter with herb (or oil, alcohol, or even spices, for that matter) is a time-intensive and pricey process. Depending on where you live, the price of a quarter ounce of weed can vary from the cost of a high-end pizza to the cost of a high-end dinner, so there’s no fucking up allowed. Plus, while there is no evidence of anyone ever overdosing on cannabis, people can ingest too much—and the last thing I want is to send your dinner guests on a horrid-awful trip into the multiverse. Unlike alcohol, orally ingested cannabis takes many hours (sometimes up to 12 or longer) to get out of your system, so a bad experience can be a long-lasting one.

I wish I could say I came up with the drop-dead, end-all method for infusing butter (or oil) with herb, but until the day when someone heads into a lab and pays a lot of money to find out which technique extracts the most THC from herb, it’s all a bit of a guesstimate. The best way to find out how strong your cannabutter/cannaoil/cannaspice is, really, is to eat your experiments. The recipes in Cooking With Herb were all devised to offer 5 mg of THC per serving—that’s a modest amount (for perspective, in Washington state, the legal limit of a single serving of THC in store-bought edibles is 10 mg per serving).

Like alcohol, depending on your tolerance for herb and a bunch of other factors (your metabolism, what you ate that day, whether you’re male or female, etc.), the potency of the serving can hit you hard or soft. It’s best to start with one serving, wait an hour or so, then eat more or hold off as you like. We are entering into a blind-faith zone, so modest dosing is the way to go, and it’s really about the most control you can hope for when dipping into the world of home-spiked foods.

At the end of my Portland testing stint, MJ invited a houseful of people over for a potluck. I cooked a ton of food from the book, most laced with THC (but it’s also important to have non-THC-dosed foods, like nuts, cheeses and dips so no one gets rocked out of their skull). I’ve got to say, it was a great party. Guests ranged from 22 to 75 years old, and they all had the most interesting, witty, hysterical things to say. Everyone was happy and laughing and smiling, and the room was absolutely brimming with positive vibes.

Cooking with herb isn’t about getting stupid stoned. Eating herb-spiked food is something to do with friends, with food that’s delicious and even healthy (no, it’s not all about brownies and cookies and gummies!). It’s about opening your spirit, feeling elevated, receptive and blissful, and, as Cedella might say, it’s about generating an overstanding about your connection to the earth and one another. It’s also about having a really good time and eating some great food while you’re at it.

Cannabutter: The Only Recipe You Need

Cannabutter: The Only Recipe You Need

12 fluid oz (1 serving = 1/2 teaspoon = 5 mg THC)

Ingredients

  • ¼ ounce cannabis flowers (dose based on 15% THC herb)
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter

Cedella Marley, daughter of reggae legend Bob Marley, combines the healing properties of cannabis with her wellness regimen in Cooking with Herb.

    Stovetop Method

  1. Grind the herb using a hand grinder (you don’t want it to be powder fine—think dried oregano).
  2. Combine the butter and 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Once the butter begins to melt, add the ground cannabis.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and cook the butter very gently, stirring occasionally and maintaining a temperature of between 200° and 250°F, until the top layer in the saucepan changes from watery to glossy and thick, 2 to 3 hours—you may need to add water if the temperature gets close to the 250°F mark (so the butter doesn’t scorch).
  4. Set a sieve over a medium bowl (preferably glass) and line the sieve with cheesecloth. Pour the infusion into the sieve and let it sit until all of the butter has been filtered, about 5 minutes. Wrap the edges of the cheesecloth over the herb and use a rubber spatula to press on the solids to extract all of the butter (discard the solids). Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate the strained butter for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  5. The next day, lift out the solid block of butter and discard any liquid remaining in the bowl. Use a paper towel to pat the surface of the butter on all sides to absorb any droplets of moisture. Wrap the butter in two layers of plastic wrap and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Slow Cooker Method

  1. Grind the herb using a hand grinder (you don’t want it to be powder fine—think dried oregano).
  2. Add the melt butter or oil to a slow cooker. If using butter, add 2 cups of hot water (some people choose not to add the water if using the slow cooker method since the chance of scalding is very small; however, as a precaution, use water the first time and as you get to be a butter-making expert, adjust your method to suit your needs). Turn the heat to the low setting and add the ground herb. Cover the cooker. The infusion is finished when the top layer changes from watery to glossy and thick, 8 to 24 hours (the length of cooking time depends partially on the herb that you’re using; know that cooking for a longer time won’t hurt the butter, just in case you need to leave the slow cooker on overnight or while you’re at work).
  3. Set a sieve over a medium bowl and line the sieve with cheesecloth. Pour the infusion into the sieve and let it sit until all of the butter or oil is filtered, about 5 minutes. Wrap the ends of the cheesecloth over the herb and use a rubber spatula to press on the solids to extract all of the liquid (discard the solids). CannaOil can now be transferred to a jar and stored at room temperature for up to 3 months. For CannaButter, cover the bowl tightly, and refrigerate the strained butter for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  4. The next day, lift out the solid block of butter and discard any liquid remaining in the bowl. Pat the solid butter block with a paper towel, then wrap the butter in two layers of plastic wrap and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Spicy Corn Bake Made With Cannabis

Spicy Corn Bake Made With Cannabis

8 servings (5mg THC per serving)

Ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 cage-free egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups whole milk, warmed
  • ⅓ cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons cane sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ cup grated mild cheddar cheese
  • 1 ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon CannaButter
  • 6 scallions, minced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, minced
  • 1 Scotch bonnet pepper, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cedella Marley, daughter of reggae legend Bob Marley, combines the healing properties of cannabis with her wellness regimen in Cooking with Herb. Note: This recipe requires Cannabutter.

This sweet, creamy, rich corn dish is a party favorite at my house. It brings a more sophisticated and refined quality to an Herb party—serve it with a kale salad and maybe the Snapper Escovitch or a piece of grilled jerk chicken and you have a fine meal that could be served in any restaurant (but yours is better because it is made with love . . . and Herb!).

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grate three ears of corn on the medium holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Hold the remaining ear of corn upright and use a large sharp knife to slice from top to bottom, removing the kernels from the cob. Add the kernels to the corn pulp. Whisk in the egg, then add 1 cup of the milk, the cornmeal, sugar, cayenne, 1⁄2 cup of the cheddar, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside.
  3. Heat 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of the butter and the CannaButter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the scallions, jalapeños, Scotch bonnet, thyme, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt, and the black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the scallions are soft, about 2 minutes.
  4. Stir the flour into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes golden, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup milk, stirring occasionally, so you don’t get any lumps, then remove from the heat. Add the mixture to the corn mixture, whisking to combine.
  5. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 11⁄2-quart baking dish with the 1 tablespoon softened butter. Scrape in the corn mixture and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheddar and continue to bake until the edges are set and the center is just barely set (but a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean), about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley, and serve

Raquel Pelzel

Raquel Pelzel is the Editorial Director for Clarkson Potter Publishing, a division of Penguin Random House. She has co-authored more than 20 cookbooks and was formerly an editor at Cook’s Illustrated and the food editor of Tasting Table. Her next cookbook, Sheet Pan Suppers – Meatless, comes out in Fall 2017.

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