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Disclaimer: City Paper does not endorse the use of illegal substances. This article is for entertainment purposes only. With the exception of Dr. McLellan, none of the subjects are medical experts and none of their claims have been evaluated by any scientific body.
Potluck guests were plunking their wrapped plates down on the communal table and affixing descriptive handwritten signs when the hostess grabbed one and carted it away. She returned minutes later with a new label for the pan: "Special Brownies. Not For KIDS!" They were the first dessert to go, with most of the evening's guests sporting at least a few shreds of green between their teeth by the end of the night.
Though possessed of a certain nostalgic appeal, the weed brownies, tuned-up Rice Krispie treats and peanut butter/oat-and-honey "gooballs" that make up pot-snack canon are not known for their palatability or innovation. The plant's reputation for increasing hunger and enhancing the pleasure of food, meanwhile, practically demands culinary experimentation.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, its pain- and stress-relieving properties commonly unlocked by smoking the buds or leaves of the plant. Smoking, however, is a less-than-ideal THC delivery system. A recent study at the University of California San Francisco found that though it is less damaging than cigarette smoking, chronic marijuana consumption leads to decreased pulmonary function with increased exposure. In an April 2012 interview with this writer for generocity.org, Dr. A. Thomas McLellan, leading addiction researcher and former Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy, said, "Marijuana has many active medicinal ingredients — that's not my opinion, but a fact. Lots of plants have medicinal properties, but you don't smoke them. You extract them into a form the FDA can evaluate, and eventually turn them into medicine. Smokeable marijuana is not medicine, it's a carcinogen."
The deleterious effect of smoking is one motivation devotees have for finding new ways to ingest it. The next step is crafting weed-laced food that is actually enjoyable to eat. "Pot food always tasted awful to me ... [and] I didn't understand why this had to be," says "Mary Jane," the chef and owner of Tastebuds, a local underground caterer hosting recurring supper clubs highlighting her clientele's preferred vegetation. She has hooked up everything from ricotta cheese and mayonnaise — "things people don't make at home already" — to lollipops, marshmallows and hard candies. ("Why would I make brownies," she asks, "when I can make meatballs?") MJ's once-annual events morphed into monthly soirees as demand grew from both cancer patients and recreational users. Her next next event, an invite-only affair with a carnival theme, is on the schedule for May.
Since THC is highly soluble in fat, simple and effective extractions can be made by infusing ground buds, leaves and trimmings into butter and oil at a low temperature. This explains the paucity of marijuana smoothies and the abundance of lipid-heavy baked treats. "You've gotta have fat," says chef Scott Schroeder, of the South Philly Tap Room, who openly shares his fondness for ganja via his comical Twitter feed (@foodsyoucaneat). "The best thing I did was make weed ice cream last summer. It's kind of cool. When you freeze it, the THC crystal bursts and when you freeze it really hard, then it gets really strong. You can keep it in the freezer for a long time, but it disappeared really fast."
An informal survey of kitchen professionals with marijuana-cooking experience yielded a host of surprising suggestions. Chef Z mentioned that piperine, found in peppercorns, increases the bioavailability of the anti-inflammatory curcumin, which naturally occurs in turmeric. If piperine could help the body absorb more of the difficult-to-metabolize compound, could it release more potential in cannabis? His addition of finely ground black pepper and turmeric to an infusion of leaf clippings dramatically increased the effects of his resulting butter. "Put that on anything," he says. "Rice, popcorn ... works great in curry, or as a compound finishing butter."
Brewer Y, a Philly native, has an award-winning recipe as the basis for his much-requested weed beer. "It's malty and boozy enough to stand up to the strong vegetal flavor of 20 pounds of trimmings," he says. Originally conceived as a special brew for friends, the "unenhanced" version went on to score big at the Great American Beer Fest, taking home a medal in 2009.
Chef X, who's earned three bells from the Inquirer's Craig LaBan, saves a half-ounce of shake (the crumbly bits that "shake off" from buds) and sous-vides it with one pound of butter at 150 degrees F for one hour, then strains out the solids through a chinois. ("Don't overheat it," he advises. "If it gets too hot, you kill the magical THC number.") This procedure, which dramatically reduces the incriminating aroma of slow-cooked weed, can be recreated by the home chef by deploying a vacuum-sealed FoodSaver bag of butter or oil and ground grass into a pot of gently simmering water.
Chef X says he hasn't smoked anything in nearly a year, but has been contemplating throwing a "dinner party on the sly" for friends. Perhaps he'd consider a menu of a mixed green salad dressed with enhanced oil, protein finished with Chef Z's curried compound cannabutter, and for dessert, Schroeder's grown-up vanilla bean ice cream, the recipe for which you can find below.
Pot Ice Cream (yields about 1 1/2 quarts)
Go Get This:
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped
1/8 ounce of marijuana, ground fine
2 cups milk
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Now Do This:
1. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, vanilla beans and marijuana and bring to simmer. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes; cover and set aside to steep for at least 15 minutes.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or by hand if you're feeling energetic, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale.
3. Bring the milk mixture back up to a simmer and slowly whisk it into the egg mixture, so as not to scramble the eggs. Start by drizzling 1/4 cup at a time.
4. Return the mixture to the saucepan and over medium heat, whisk until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Whisk in the chilled cream to stop the cooking process.
6. Chill in an ice bath, add the vanilla extract and pass the mixture through a fine sieve.
7. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions and store covered in your freezer. The mixture lasts awhile if it's kept cold and covered and gets a little stronger after being frozen for a couple days.