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Can culinary cannabis really take food to new heights?

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    IStock/Elise McDonough

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    Chronicle Books

Familiarity alone does not an expert make. Driving doesn’t make you Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and no matter how many baskets you sink, you’ll never be Kobe.  

Take for example the latest seemingly odd addition to the culinary world: a pot food critic (not as in “crock pot,” “one-pot meal” or “potluck”, as in someone who makes a living eating then evaluating marijuana-infused food.)

Marijuana’s counter-culture—(think Cheech and Chong, Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High")—has increasingly been creeping into mainstream life, and is now aiming high for the nation's haute cuisine kitchens.

The country’s first pot restaurant, Earth Dragon Edibles recently opened in Ashland, Ore. Recently raided Oaksterdam University (“Quality Training for the Cannabis Industry”) offers Methods of Ingestion: Cooking 8501, where students will learn to infuse marijuana into “confections, cheesecakes, salad dressings and beverages,” its website reads. San Francisco Weekly is actively seeking a critic who can “help other readers discern the delicious from the merely doped up.” And now a new cookbook called The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook (Chronicle) has hit the bookstore shelves giving helpful tips and recipes on how best to cook with pot.

There will be a day when chefs are so well-versed in cannabis strains that they’ll be able to pair specific strains with specific dishes to “take cannabis to new heights.”

- Elise McDonough, author of The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook (Chronicle)

 

As Andrew Ferguson pointed out in Time Magazine, marijuana “is now accorded the same awed regard in some Colorado retail establishments as fine wine, dark chocolate and artisanal cheese.”

Case in point, William Breathes (not his real name) Denver’s Westword pot critic recommends pairing the marijuana strain “Sour D” with red wine because of its “fruity accents.” The “buttery lemon taste” of  “trainwreck variations” pairs well with smoked seafood. Breathes’ breadth of marijuana knowledge is obviously wide, his food chops, less clear. In addition to a journalism degree, though, Chow.com reported that a Westword editor told a reporter that Breathes was hired because “unlike a lot of other applicants, he could spell.” So, he’s got that going for him, too.

Today’s marijuana enthusiasts see pot sharing bandwidth with other “it” ingredients like truffle oil and Himalayan sea salt. Pot strains offer a wide spectrum of flavor and aroma profiles explains Elise McDonough, author of The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook. Some strains have a pine-y aroma with hints of rosemary, she says, others evoke lemon, pepper and mint.

McDonough’s recipes like Cheeto Fried Chicken, Ganja Granny’s Smoked Mac ‘N’ Cheese and Obama’s Sativa Samosas reflect the fact that people historically preferred ingesting to smoking -- especially true today for medical marijuana patients who’d rather not, or can’t, smoke (i.e. undergoing lung cancer treatment).  Ancient Hindus, she says, infused milk with pot, nuts and spices. Smoking is a 20th century phenomenon introduced to the Southwest by migrating Mexican workers, says McDonough, and spread to the rest of the country by traveling Jazz musicians who presumably weren’t singing the blues.

Click here for a recipe for Ganja Granny’s Smoked Mac ‘N’ Cheese.

McDonough's book is filled with ways to cook with pot --the right way, that is.  She cautions never cook with fresh, raw, just-off-the-stem cannabis. Unlike regular herbs that you use fresh or dried, “herb” can only be used dried. Fresh marijuana tastes like dirt and dandelions and after choking it down you’ll have nothing to show for it because the fresh stuff provides no psychoactive effect. First you dry it, then you heat it. Drying concentrates THC’s psychoactive effects (tetrahydrocannabinol acid, pot’s active ingredient), says McDonough, and heating activates it.

While basic herbs have a single flavor, i.e. Italian and flat parsley have slightly different flavor profiles but they still taste and smell like parsley, marijuana’s terpenes create a spectrum of different flavor and aroma profiles.

McDonough sees a day when chefs are so well-versed in cannabis strains that they’ll be able to pair specific strains with specific dishes to “take cannabis to new heights.”

“A pipe-dream,” says Greg Mowery, the Stovetopreadings.com blogger and a publicist who’s worked with the country’s top cookbook authors and chefs for 25 years.

Pot is bitter, acrid and unpalatable, he says, and nothing in the taste of pot makes food taste better. “My pot days are over. I’m not Bill Clinton. I’m not going to say I didn’t inhale,” he says. “As someone who’s eaten plenty of pot-laced brownies,” he states, “pot tastes awful.”

Chopping, tearing or rubbing herbs releases their essential oils and enhances their flavor.  Do that with pot, he says, and you “bring out the taste of pot in the dish. Meaning you’re making it even more unpleasant.”

If it were such a great cooking ingredient, says Mowery, after all this time there’d be some great recipes floating around. “To make pot taste good you have to disguise its flavor,” he says. “It’s not, you know, tarragon.”

If it had culinary value, he says, people like Melissa Clark, Jamie Oliver and David Chang would be “featuring it on their menus or at least at private parties with friends. And the recipes would get out.”

As of this writing, none have.