Tobacco is little-used in cooking, which is a shame, because it has a marvelous flavor. Tobacco contains nicotine, a stimulant that is deadly in the right dose, most folks shy away from cooking with it. But the National Institutes of Health has done plenty of research about nicotine toxicity, and I published an article that helps consolidate their information for practical kitchen use. Check it out here.
This is a recipe we recently served at my restaurant FRANK, to wild acclaim. You’ll notice a varied amount of tobacco in the recipe. All amounts within this range are safe for ADULT consumption. (Just don’t eat the whole gallon yourself in one sitting!) The lower end of the range will infuse that wonderful, earthy flavor into the ice cream. The higher end of the range will result in an ice cream that tingles your mouth as you eat it.
Always use organic pipe tobacco from a reputable shop, and, just like with wine or beer, there are many varieties of tobacco. How the tobacco is grown, how it is fermented, and how it is dried and toasted contributes to a wide range of flavors and aromas. Avoid those with artificial flavors (cherry, menthol, etc.), but once you’ve eliminated these, you’ll have to choose your variety based on what strikes you as you smell it. The aromas can range from light hay to dark smoke. There’s a whole new world of flavor out there for the creative chef or home cook to explore!
This recipe was inspired by Rufus Wainwright’s song “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” The chocolate content, then, is more like chocolate milk than chocolate ice cream. Feel free to leave out to the cocoa from the recipe if you want to more fully taste the tobacco. (I recommend using the lower end of the tobacco quantity in that case, since it’s not having to compete with the chocolate.) If you leave out the cocoa, the first step of bringing the sugar to a boil is not necessary, just combing the sugar, canned milk, tobacco, and corn syrup together and begin heating.
(NOTE: For most of my ice creams, I use raw egg yolks. Because they are from my chickens, I know they are safe. If you are using store-bought egg yolks, or are cooking for children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems, you’ll want to use the “custard” method to ensure your yolks are pasteurized…or just buy pasteurized eggs and use them raw. For the custard method, after straining the tobacco from the hot milk mixture, bring the milk back to a simmer, stirring constantly. In a stand mixer, place your egg yolks and beat them until thick. In a thin stream, begin pouring the milk into the bowl as the whisk is continuing to beat the yolks. Once you’ve added half the hot milk to the bowl, stop the mixer, pour the egg mixture into the pot with the rest of the hot milk, and return to medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 180F. Hold at that temperature for 30 seconds, then remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight before freezing.)
This recipe yields 1 gallon (16 one-cup servings), adjust as necessary for your ice cream freezer.
In a heavy pot over medium heat, combine:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder (NOT Dutch-processed or “extra dark”)
2 Tablespoons water
Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Then add:
2 cans evaporated milk (NOT sweetened, condensed milk. Evaporated milk is concentrated and cooked, resulting in a toasty caramel flavor, and makes ice cream very rich and flavorful.)
1/8 oz – 1/4 oz organic pipe tobacco
1 cup corn syrup (the glucose in corn syrup helps prevent larger ice crystals from forming in the base as it freezes, resulting in a much smoother texture. Check the ingredients when you buy corn syrup, and don’t get one that has “high fructose corn syrup” as an ingredient. Karo syrups do not contain HFCS.)
Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a simmer. Then remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes. Strain to remove the tobacco, pressing the tobacco gently to extract as much milk as possible.
In a blender, combine:
1 dozen egg yolks
1 Tablespoon vanilla
2 cups milk
(I actually do this in a gallon pitcher and use my immersion blender, so I don’t have to clean my blender.) Blend until fully smooth, about 2 minutes. Then add the hot tobacco-infused milk to the mixture and blend again. Transfer to a container that will hold at least 1 gallon of liquid, and add:
2 pints heavy cream
Whisk until fully combined. Add additional milk, if necessary, to yield just under 1 gallon of base. Refrigerate several hours, or overnight, until very cold. Freeze according to your ice cream manufacturer’s instructions.
This recipe does not contain enough nicotine to harm an adult, even if the entire gallon of ice cream base were to be consumed in a single sitting by one person. It does, however, contain enough nicotine to harm a child, should that child be able to consume a full gallon of ice cream at once. It’s safest not to serve tobacco products to kids. If your kids are foodies, perhaps a single taste, along with a balanced conversation on the historical, cultural, and medical implications of tobacco use.