Alaskans love salmon, and Alaskans love cannabis. And even better, both of these items can be harvested by Alaskans. The salmon can be pulled right out a river with a dipnet (legally of course; get your permit and only do this in designated locations). The cannabis can be grown in a pot in your window.
Edible cannabis has become far more common in the age of legalization than it was during the long decades of prohibition. Walk into any dispensary, and you’ll be presented with a range of edible products delivering carefully measured doses of THC. And at some point after seeing all of these, the idea of making your own treats incorporating cannabis will become tempting.
Most edibles are sweet, but there’s no reason why savory foods should be excluded. Which leads us to that salmon you just brought home.
Can you have your fish and weed it too? Well, yes, but you have to go about it correctly.
Everyone has their favorite salmon recipe, and fortunately, just about all of them can be adapted for infusion. But you can’t simply sprinkle some shake on your fish and get a buzz. You have to properly prepare the plant first.
As most readers know, fresh cannabis does not contain delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is an inactive compound that has to be converted to THC, and this is done through a process involving the application of heat to the plant called decarboxylation. This happens automatically when you smoke marijuana, but if you’re going to eat it, you need to heat it to give you the desired effect.
Getting ready to decarb
There are several ways of decarboxylating, and a quick trip to the internet will provide you with a plethora of methods to experiment with. But at least one procedure has scientific research to back it up.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Molecular Structure found that the optimal results for THC yield through decarboxylation could be had by heating cannabis at 230 degrees Fahrenheit for 110 minutes. Simply sprinkle broken-up buds in a single layer on a sheet and bake in the oven, stirring periodically.
The key is, not too hot, and not too fast. Patience pays off. Many cooks recommend shorter baking times, so feel free to experiment. Setting the oven too high will break down various cannabinoid compounds and terpenes faster than cooking for too long will, so temperature is the bigger concern.
Once it’s out of the oven and cooled, grind your cannabis down to small flakes, but don’t make a fine powder of it. If you’re in a hurry, these flakes can be sprinkled on your salmon as a garnish. It will get you high, and you have the advantage of being able to carefully measure your dosage, but it isn’t the best flavor complement. So if you do this, you’ll want a lot of garlic or other herbs such as oregano or thyme on your fish to help disguise it.
Of course, everyone knows things taste better in butter, especially salmon, and here is where the real magic trick lies. Cannabutter, or infused butter, can be used in countless recipes, and it, too, is fairly simple to make. All you need is 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of decarboxylated rough ground cannabis, and 1 cup of water (many cannabutter recipes skip the decarboxylation of the cannabis since this process will occur naturally while heating the butter, but the finished product will be stronger if you decarboxylate it first).
Place the water and butter in a saucepan and warm over low heat, between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. As with decarboxylation, you don’t want to overheat it.
Once the butter has melted, sprinkle in the ground cannabis. Simmer, but do not allow to boil, for about two hours, stirring occasionally. Then remove it from the heat and let it cool. Next strain it into a jar through cheese cloth to remove the cannabis particles (this is why you don’t want to grind your cannabis to a fine powder; it will seep through the cheese cloth and add a grassy flavor to the butter).
Refrigerate until the water separates from the butter, and pour it off. You have your first batch of cannabutter. Keep it refrigerated until ready to use.
You can make cannaoil using the same process, but skip the water since oil doesn’t burn as easily as butter. Again, simmer a cup of olive, coconut, or avocado oil with a cup of decarboxylated cannabis for two hours, let cool, and strain.
Now it’s time to pull that salmon out of the fridge. Recipes can range from the simple to the complex, but salmon is a full-flavored fish, so keeping it basic is better.
One option is to simply grill or cook the fish, then melt cannabutter over it before serving. For those wanting to keep it simple, this is as basic as it gets, and everyone partaking can choose their dosage.
You can also cook your salmon directly in your cannabutter. Place the cannabutter in a pan and melt it in the oven or on the stove. Evenly distribute it over the surface of the pan and place the salmon steaks, seasoned to your preference, in the butter and bake as normal. Salmon can easily be overcooked, so be careful. The general rule for oven baking is 4 to 6 minutes per half-inch of thickness at 425 degrees in the oven, or on the stove, 4 minutes on one side and 3 on the other in a pan over medium high heat. Either way, you want to flip it about halfway through. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, it’s done.
Once you’re up and running, you can start getting creative. Adding herbs to the butter can enhance the flavors considerably. Parsley and dill work especially well with salmon, as do finely chopped onions and garlic.
For a cup of cannabutter, add about 2 tablespoons of each, more or less depending on personal preference, and stir well. Alternately, chopped chili peppers or ground cayenne can be blended in, but know your tolerance for heat when doing this.
More importantly, know your tolerance for cannabis. The potency of cannabutter can vary widely depending on the strength of the cannabis used, how successful you were with maintaining proper temperatures while preparing it, and other factors.
So don’t smear it on in large amounts unless you’re relatively confident about the dosage levels in the butter and how much you can handle. Edibles generally take 45 minutes to an hour before they start kicking in, so go easy on the second helping.
There are other ways to infuse your salmon dinner. Cannaoil made from olive oil can be sprinkled on fresh greens served with the fish.
Denver chef Josh Pollack makes infused lox by adding tinctured cannabis to his brine and letting the salmon dry in the refrigerator for 72 hours. The same can be done with smoked salmon. And there’s no reason to stop at salmon.
Cannabutter and cannaoil can be used in cooking halibut, moose, or caribou. The only limit is your imagination.
Whatever your favorite dish, a little cannabutter can turn your next potluck into a gathering of baked Alaskans, with locally gathered wild foods and locally grown cannabis. You can’t find a better way to celebrate Alaska’s bounty.
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.