As a chef and a bartender, Michael Cirino knows all about rituals around a table. But because cannabis isn’t legal, it’s been held back in the food world.
“Because of its prohibition, [cannabis] has been left out of all of these interesting traditions that other food has,” like the presentation of wine in a restaurant, he says.
“Cannabis was either smoking a joint or hitting a bong. It’s not done at a table with your family. I was really disappointed by that and I wanted to change it.”
At a recent preview of his class, Cirino helped dispel some of the myths about cannabis as an ingredient — and how we’ve been using it all wrong.
A mellow high
Cirino’s class materials begin with a two-page disclaimer reminding attendees that cannabis remains illegal to buy, sell and, in most places, consume for recreational use. (He used oregano as a substitute.) It also includes this intriguing line: “Cannabis can cause mind-altering effects if dosage levels are high enough.”
The reason you get out-of-your-mind high is that, like hot peppers, cannabis varieties have been bred for maximum intensity for so long that controlling the amount of THC is difficult, Cirino explains. “My wife takes one hit off a joint and she’s too stoned to be out in public, and that’s 10 percent of the American public.”
Cooking with cannabis is, first and foremost, about learning what it can do for you at a dose that doesn’t leave you incapacitated for hours. It’s about seeing the drug as an ingredient rather than the whole experience.
Besides portion control, eating also gives you “a much more gradual lift and a much more gradual coming down,” says Cirino.
Think beyond baked goods
This will make your cookie deliveryman sad, but other than being good for a pun, baked goods are one of the worst ways you could consume cannabis.
“I don’t recommend making brownies or cookies,” Cirino says. “You’re tempted to eat more once you’re stoned.” There’s also the simple fact that it doesn’t taste good — the herb is woodsy and bitter — and the plant matter is difficult to digest.
Cirino likes putting it in coffee, sauces, ice cream, rich soups and duck fat — “steak is even better when you put more fat on top of it,” he points out. “Anything you can put fat and alcohol in that tastes delicious, you can use cannabis in.” When dosed properly, the dish should “feel like the food plus a glass of wine.”
A little chemistry
Cannabis is oil-soluble, so it can’t be brewed like tea. It has to be heated to undergo decarboxylation — the scientific term for activating the THC, which is the relaxing and/or hallucinatory drug. It can be done with a short, intense burst of heat — seven minutes in a 300-degree oven is enough.
Next is infusing it into fat or alcohol. This can be done several ways: In the class, Cirino infuses duck fat using a double broiler, and bourbon using an aerosol canister, then extracts the concentrate using an Aeropress. As a guideline, 1 gram for every 30-50ml is “coffee strength,” while 20-25ml will make it “cocktail strength.” A typical dose is 5 ml of oil or tincture, or about one full eyedropper.
The future of fine dining?
As the class ends, Cirino glances at the participant sitting closest to him. “Do you think it will ever become as acceptable to have a cannabis-laced tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park as a wine pairing?” It’s not a rhetorical question.
For him, this is the dream. The woman shrugs, but her apologetic expression says it all. Even if cannabis becomes acceptable, there’s a lot of stigma left to dismantle.