Excerpted from the book, Coi: Stories and Recipes by Daniel Patterson. Copyright Phaidon Press.
Read the story of how the Prather Ranch Beef Encrusted in Lichen came to be.
(Yields 4, with extra sauce and Lichen powder)
Ingredients for Lichen powder
- 500 g raw parmotrema lichen
Ingredients for Marrow stock
- 2 kg marrow bones, cut into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
- 2 kg water
Ingredients for Beef jus
- 500 g beef scraps
- pure olive oil
- 100 g carrot
- 150 g yellow onion
- 500 g red wine
- 1 kg Marrow stock
- 250 g AP stock (for details, see Coi pages 48, 288)
- 250 g Vegetable stock (see Coi pages 49, 288)
- 1-4 wild California bay leaves
- 1 slice dried angelica root
- 25 g wild fennel stem, sliced
- 15 g Monterey cypress leaves, tips only, snipped
- lime juice
- rice wine vinegar
- xanthan, if necessary
- 250 g beef tenderloin
- 15 small chanterelles
- 15 g pure olive oil
- 12 New Zealand spinach leaves
- rice wine vinegar
- a few pieces of shaved raw chanterelle
If, for some crazy reason you decide to make this dish, then we’ll need to have a talk about the lichen powder. It’s not that much fun to make. First, you have to go find the lichen. You will find that it grows well and tastes great in certain spots and not at all in others. You will need to find not just a piece or two, but an area where it exists in abundance, because you’ll need a lot of it. Did you bring a bag and a sharp knife? Good. Start by chewing on a piece. It should have a nice earthy/mushroomy aftertaste, not right away but towards the end. It shouldn’t be wildly bitter. If it doesn’t taste appealing raw then it won’t be that good when it’s cooked. Scrape the lichen off the branches. It will contain various levels of moisture, and they’re all fine, even if it’s dry. You’ll need a small grocery bag full to get any kind of quantity of powder. What starts as a lark in a beautiful forest will turn quickly into drudgery. (This is an almost perfect metaphor for haute cuisine.)
Once you get the lichen back to civilization, you will need to clean it. That involves taking a paring knife and tediously removing all bark, pine needles, dirt, and other foreign matter and dropping the lichen into cold water, where it will go through a few changes, agitating the lichen each time. Then boil the lichen in unsalted water. Depending on the state the lichen is in, this will take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, boiling the entire time. Change the water if it gets too dark and/or bitter. There’s a moment that’s hard to describe, when the lichen changes into something extraordinary. I noticed it right away, the first time I cooked it. Cooking is not, in the end, about recipes. Recipes are the breadcrumbs left behind so that other people can more or less retrace the path that the cook took in the first place. But even that can’t happen without something that neither I nor anyone else can teach: Intuition. Intuition is the product of skill, knowledge and experience. Without intuition there can be good cooking, but not great cooking.
This is an example of a dish that relies on intuition. The instinct that says that there’s something special in the lichen in the first place; the instinct that says it should be boiled; and the instinct that knows exactly when it’s done. As the lichen cooks, it spends a lot of time almost ready, when the taste is still a little bitter and unresolved. And then, all of a sudden — improbably, after cooking for hours, by which time the taste should have been obliterated — the bitterness disappears and the flavor is watery, but earthy and round. Whenever the process goes wrong at the restaurant, it’s either because the lichen was pulled out too soon, or because someone picked lichen that didn’t taste good in the first place. Drain the lichen and dehydrate it overnight at 140°F (60°C) until it’s completely dry. Grind in a spice grinder.
Trim the tenderloin of all fat and sinew, and cut into a long piece that is more or less cylindrical. Dust it with the lichen powder and transfer to the center of a large piece of plastic wrap. Wrap it tight, tying off the ends. Repeat, until the cylinder of beef is perfectly round. Cryovac, and cook in a water bath at 140°F (60°C) for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness, then cool in ice water. This will not actually cook the beef, but it makes the lichen flavor more pronounced and helps the crust adhere.
To make the marrow stock, simmer the marrow bones with water until flavorful, 4 to 5 hours. Don’t skim. Cool.
For the sauce brown the beef scraps in pure olive oil, then add the vegetables and cook until lightly browned and softened. Deglaze with the red wine, reduce by a third, and then add the other liquids. Simmer and reduce, without skimming, until the flavor is concentrated. Strain the sauce through a chinois and reduce, skimming occasionally, until the flavor is clear and powerful. At this point, add the aromatics. It’s really hard to explain this part; it takes a little bit of alchemy to get the balance right. The most important seasoning is the wild bay, but be careful because it’s strong, and it can take over. The angelica is the bass note, grounding and earthy, but it should be subordinate to the bay. The fennel and cypress fill out the middle, green notes — you won’t be able to distinguish them, but if they’re not there the sauce will feel hollow. Add some lime juice and a little rice wine vinegar (not too much at first) during the infusion process, and if the sauce seems too thin, add a little xanthan. Adjust as the sauce is cooking, and then finalize it once it has been strained — it will take what we call colloquially in the kitchen a shit-ton of acidity, which means way more than you’d expect. And yet, it doesn’t taste acidic, just green and bright. It’s a strange sauce, even more so because of what happens after it’s strained — an hour later, as if by magic, the aromatics will fully resolve, and become a cohesive whole.
To serve, remove the plastic wrap, season the beef with salt, and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, until the salt dissolves into the crust. Cook the beef in a medium-hot pan, 5 to 10 seconds on each side, not to brown it but to form the crust and to bring out the aromatics. Transfer to a baking sheet and put it in the oven at 250°F (120°C) until cooked, turning often. The beef should be rosy pink and juicy. Remove from the oven and prepare the vegetables.
Sauté the chanterelles in pure olive oil with salt, and then when they’re done add the spinach and a splash of water, and cover until wilted. If the spinach is tough, it may need an extra 1 or 2 minutes, but keep it moist. Remove the cover and season with salt and a little rice wine vinegar. Transfer to a sheet tray lined with paper towels. Cut the beef in thick rounds and place on the plate. Place the chanterelles and spinach around, and add a few pieces of shaved raw chanterelle. Sauce generously.