Wild Gourmet Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum)
The Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum) is one weird gourmet edible. The Lobster fungus itself does not have its own fruiting body, and is incapable of forming what we know as a mushroom. Rather, it spreads itself about the forest in the wind (I’m assuming) and attacks growing mushroom bodies of other fungal species, most commonly in the Russula and Lactarius families. What happens next is completely bazaar. The parasitic Lobster fungus begins to eat and transform the host body. It literally dissolves the gills, reshapes the cap, wacks out the stalk, turns the mushroom’s exterior from white to orange, and transforms the brittle texture of the host into a solid, very firm gourmet delight. What’s especially odd is that the host mushrooms are typically some of the most bland and undesirable mushrooms in the forest. But once they’ve been hit by the Lobster parasite, they become one of the best edibles in the land. Plentiful, beautiful, easy to identify, and very tasty, these wild gourmet treats should be on your “let’s go find dinner in the woods” list.
How to Identify Lobster Mushrooms
- Medium-large, vessel-shaped mushroom, reminiscent of an upside down pyramid
- Outside is brightly colored orange to reddish-orange
- Gills of the original host mushroom are transformed, turning into blunt ridges. As the parasitic transformation continues, the ridges often disappear completely, leaving only a smooth skin with little bumps on it.
- The inside flesh is white and firm when fresh
- Sometimes the cap is a lighter color orange (even yellow) than the underside and stock
- Often has a faint aroma of seafood
- Grow in the Fall and are plentiful after rain.
- Are often found along side Chanterelles
- In the Pacific Northwest, the original host mushroom is usually the Cascade russula
Edibility of Lobster Mushrooms
It should be noted that the Lobster Mushroom fungus can attack deadly poisonous mushrooms as well, though not nearly as commonly seen. As such, it is probably wise to know the host mushrooms well enough to determine what is growing around the Lobsters that you find. Most mushroom books caution about this. However, I recently read a study that showed that the lobster fungus changes the nature of the host body so much that it can actually destroy the toxins found in the original poisonous host. I’m no expert on this, so do what you will. But just know that Lobster mushrooms are sold in stores and through restaurant distributors all over the world, so they are obviously deemed generally very safe.
Lobster mushrooms are extremely delicious. They are very firm textured, and hold up well to a long sauteing, braising, stewing, or whatever. That subtle seafood/fishy aroma disappears once cooked, but the bright orange color does not go away, making them a beautiful addition to anything you put them in. They are best sauteed in some butter, onions, garlic, and herbs, then added to whatever you’d like to put them in (excellent on toast, in pasta, over meat, or even on a salad). Like most wild mushrooms, Lobster Mushrooms need to be cooked prior to eating.
How Best to Preserve Lobster Mushrooms
When you find them, you’ll likely find gallons of them. Go ahead and wash them thoroughly under water, getting all the dirt and pine/fur needles out of the nooks and crannies. Allow to air dry, then cut any bad spots away. Make sure to check the stalk for worms. If you find any, just keep cutting up the stalk until they are not there any more. If they’ve spread into the cap, toss the whole thing and grab one of your other 300 to deal with.
From here, you can slice, chop, or leave whole, depending on your preservation method. Lobsters dehydrate and reconstitute well, though get a touch rubbery in the process. I have found that the best way to preserve them for storage is to chop them into 1/4″ pieces, saute them in olive oil and butter, place them in vacuum pack bags, and freeze them. They’ll stay delicious this way for up to a year in your freezer. Simply pull out a bag and add the frozen mushrooms to your favorite mushroom calling dish as you cook it. Yum!
The Bald Gourmet picks and eats delicious wild gourmet lobster mushrooms.
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