Spending an afternoon or evening cooking with friends feeds both hunger and the soul—and adding cannabis to the mix can add a whole other layer of sociability and relaxation.
For many home cooks, the idea of first creating cannabis oil or butter, and then making edibles, can seem daunting. In theory, you could simply throw some raw flower into any dish—but doing so would not fully activate the THC, and it would probably leave you with some funky-tasting food. Beyond the time and work involved, the inconsistency of marijuana strength and the amount (and, therefore, the expense) of marijuana it can take lead most people to decide to consume only prepackaged edibles. I think is a shame.
If you have never cooked with cannabis, there are a few things you need to know before you begin. Let’s start with how much cannabis you want to use: A limited amount of cannabinoids—the active ingredients in the marijuana plant that include both CBD and THC—will dissolve in the oil. (By the way, in this piece, we’re using the words oil, butter and fat interchangeably.) By adding too much weed to your oil, you are simply wasting money and product. An ounce of cannabis infused into 16 ounces of butter or oil will give you a potent product that can later be cut with more fat as necessary. For my favorite lemon loaf, for instance, I use about two tablespoons of cannabis butter, and four tablespoons of regular butter.
Before using cannabis oil in a recipe, it must first be decarboxylated, a process that makes the THC into a substance that has intoxicating effects—not unlike how fermentation changes grape juice into wine. Heat is the fastest and most-effective method for creating this effect. So, when making cannabis-infused oil, temperature is vital: If your oil is too cool, the cannabinoids will either not all be released, or not released at all. If it’s too hot, you will vaporize your cannabinoids, losing potency and money.
Many people begin this process in a low-temperature oven (245 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 30 minutes, mixing the buds every 10 minutes or so, before coarsely grinding and transferring the buds into a slow-cooker with the oil, at 160-200 degrees, for three hours. But honestly … I hate this method. The time in the oven makes the entire house smell, which is not a major concern when we can have our doors and windows open—but come summer, when the house is shut up tight in 110-degree-plus temps, this is just not acceptable. Also: The amount of “active cooking” time is not practical for someone with a busy life. Finally, the unknowns around temperature make it difficult to get a consistent product.
Luckily, there is a great solution: the consumer grade sous-vide machine. Home cooks everywhere are discovering the joys of the precise time and temperature offered with this bath-cooking method. A sous-vide machine—several great brands are on the market for less than $200, including the Anova, which I use—allows you to place a sealed bag or canning jar in a water bath, with that water holding within a degree plus or minus, for as long as you need. Obviously, there is an initial cost, but once you have the cooker, you can use it for all sorts of cooking projects—and you’ll save money in the long run, because you’ll be making better, more-consistent oils.
You can “decarb” your flowers using a sealed bag under water, set to 203 degrees, for one hour. Then you coarse-grind the product, and place it and the fat in a sealed canning jar; put that in a water bath set to 185 degrees for four hours—and you are done. The beauty of the sous-vide system is that it can run without being monitored, so feel free to run errands or take a nap.
Once you have infused your cannabis oil, you will need to strain it. If you aren’t fond of the herbaceously green flavor of most homemade cannabis butters, I recommend lining a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth, and letting gravity do the work. Don’t worry about getting every drop of oil out of the plant material; if you squeeze the cloth too hard, you will only succeed in getting lots of plant dust and chlorophyll in your oil, which gives it an off-putting flavor.
Even if you use the sous-vide machine, you’ll have spent a lot of time and energy making your lovely cannabis oil. Now it’s time to use it—but first, I recommend consuming a quarter-teaspoon of oil before you really start cooking; wait about an hour, and see how it affects you. You can then make some educated guesses about the dose that works for you.
Check out sousweed.com for lots of recipes. The lemon cake mentioned at the beginning of this article is delicious when made with fresh lemons; I skip the medicated bitters and use limoncello.