Flavor-forward Cannabis Cookery

By Sean Kenniff


Sean Kenniff
Cannabis Queen Jessica Catalano pairs Cheese, Hindu Kush, and more with Denver’s most crave-able dishes.
Cannabis Queen Jessica Catalano pairs Cheese, Hindu Kush, and more with Denver’s most crave-able dishes.

Strain specific cannabis cuisine. It’s a thing. Think of it like pairing a Cab and a slab or Sauvignon Blanc and oysters, except this pairing is cooked into the dish. When you’re cooking with cannabis, flavor notes—from candied lemon to musky earth and cheese—come from compounds called terpenes. (What’s a terpene? Glad you asked. See the Lexicann below). There’s science, sense, and sophistication behind selecting strains, extracting their feel-good and taste-good qualities, and effectively and seamlessly incorporating them into a dish, ultimately elevating it. We’re not talking about dumping a dime bag on your Cesar salad. You have to process and decarboxylize cannabis to get the full flavor expression and its medicinal and/or psychoactive effects.

Attention: Responsible dosing is important. Jessica Catalano—a Denver-based chef, writer, editor, and author of The Ganja Kitchen Revolution—is a pioneer of strain specific cannabis cuisine and all around queen of weed wizardry in the kitchen. She recommends doses between 1 and 10 milligrams for first timers, 10 to 40 for moderate users, and 50 for heavy hitters. 

Catalano analyzed some of Colorado’s most craveable dishes and paired them with specific cannabis strains. You can find her notes and recommendations as well as Catalano’s detailed processing, extraction, dosing instructions, and cooking methods in recipes linked throughout. The next time you hit a creative road block, consider cannabis to take that dish to a higher level.

Volatile essential oils found in all plants that hold they’re distinct smell, taste, and, in the case of cannabis, its cannabinoid make-up. Bruise the peel of an orange; the oils of the rind are full of terpenes. 

Curing Cannabis
Drying buds slowly in a controlled environment, then storing them in glass jars for a few weeks to let certain natural plant processes occur, ensuring peak potency and quality. 

The process of slowly heating cannabis to activate the cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds that give cannabis its medicinal and psychoactive effects. 

Indica & Sativa
The two types of cannabis plant, each with its own range of effects on the body and mind. 

Cannabis resin glands that contain terpenes and cannabinoids such as THCA—the raw form of THC before activation; not psychoactive.

Chef Jeff Osaka of Osaka Ramen | Denver
Okonomiyaki fries, yaki sauce, kewpie mayo, furikake, bonito flakes
Strain: White Widow. This 60/40 Sativa from the Netherlands has been famous worldwide since the 90s. It has a sweet, sugary taste laced with deep savory, herbal, and peppery notes, making it the perfect companion to umami.
Terpenes: High in myrcene
Effect: Peaceful sense of relaxation, as well as mental alertness. Consume during lunch or dinner, where casual conversation might turn into a vortex of creative energy. Medicinally, this strain helps with stress, depression, and PTSD.
Extraction/Cooking Method: Activate White Widow kief and mix into salt to season fries.

Chefs Dan Lasiy & Bo Porytko of Rebel Restaurant | Denver 
Study of turnip: turnip milk, turnip cheese, raw turnip, braised turnip, turnip greens
Strain: Cheese. This rare Indica-dominant strain is a famous phenotype from the United Kingdom that showcases a delicious aged cheese flavor.
Terpene: High in isovaleric acid
Effect: Profound sense of euphoria shadowed by a deeply narcotic body numbing sensation. It’s sedating effect (from Indica) is balanced by the mood changing characteristics of its Sativa component. 
Extraction/Cooking Method: Infuse decarboxylized Cheese kief into the “Turnip Cheese.”

Chef Todd Somma Of Hop Alley | Denver
La zi ji: fried chicken, dried chiles, Szechuan pepper
Strain: Hindu Kush. This 100% pure Indica from the Hindu Kush mountains is an original landrace strain with a sweet, earthy flavor and complex, warm spice. It pairs well with chiles and adds an element of intrigue to the La Zi Ji sauce.
Terpenes: High in caryophyllene, humulene, and limonene
Effect: Starts off with physical relaxation and turns into a total couchlock with a narcotic body high and psychedelic effects. These properties are great for meandering conversation at the end of a dinner, as well as abating pain, nausea, or stress.
Extraction/Cooking Method: Extract the Hindu Kush into sesame seed oil for the La Si Ji sauce.

Chef Chris Schmidt of Sweet Basil | Vail
Grilled veal sweet breads, palisades tomato-yuzu preserves, grilled romaine, brioche croutons, smoked mayonnaise
Strain: BC Grapefruit. This rare Sativa clone comes is just as upbeat as the decade that birthed it: the 80s. It has strong notes of grapefruit and a hint of sweet citrus—a match made in heaven for yuzu.
Terpene: High in limonene
Effect: Conjures energy and fuels a desire to socialize and move about. It also causes a weighty sense of euphoria helpful for reversing depression and anxiety.
Extraction/Cooking Method: Extract Grapefruit BC into a honey tincture and incorporate into the tomato-yuzu preserves.

Pastry Chef Tesa Butkus of Arcana | Boulder 
Pumpkin fancy pie, buckwheat crust, cranberry meringue, milk chocolate, butter pecans, milk jam
Strain: Dairy Queen. The combination of terpenes in this strain creates a distinct smell and taste reminiscent of sweet cream with undertones of fruit and raw honey.
Terpenes: High in humulene, caryophyllene, and myrcene
Effect: An uplifting strain with a fast-hitting, cerebral high. It’s great for mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Extraction/Cooking Method: Infuse Dairy Queen blonde bubble hash (kief collected using ice water and a bag filtration system) into condensed milk. Incorporate infused milk into the milk jam.

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