What is a lobster mushroom?
The lobster mushroom is not a mushroom at all, but a parasitic mold called Hypomyces lactifluorum, which attacks other mushrooms and envelopes them, completely altering their appearance. It generally attacks Lactarius and Russula mushrooms, and covers them with a red outer “shell”, causing them to take on the appearance of a lobster: red outside, with pale meat inside. Many find them quite beautiful.
The attack of the red mold actually improves the taste of these mushrooms, neither of which is valued for its flavor. And the mold improves the texture of the Russula, which is very crumbly beforehand. Foraged only in the summer, they can be easily spotted under a variety of trees, most often hemlock. Any place that the exceedingly common Lactarius mushroom grows, the lobster mushroom might appear.
The lobster mushroom is meaty and has a dense texture. With a nutty, sweet smell reminiscent of steamed lobster, they are delicate and variable in flavor. Fresh specimens with completely white flesh on the interior are the best tasting.
Cleaning Lobster Mushrooms
- Lobster mushrooms catch a lot of dirt in their cracks and concave caps, so cleaning them is not easy.
- Do not wash them with a damp cloth, which can be messy and may remove the distinctive coloring, but rather use a dry brush to wipe away the dirt. It might be necessary to break the mushrooms apart to get into all the crevices.
- Cut off any brown spots that might be on the surface.
- The lobster is a sturdy mushroom, so if you have very dirty ones, they can be quickly rinsed in very cold water.
Cooking Lobster Mushrooms
- Keep it simple. Pan frying or sautéing with a bit of salt is perfect for this dense mushroom.
- The larger specimens benefit from moist cooking methods.
- The bright orange-red color of the mushroom leaches out as it cooks, leaving a colorful juice in the pan. In fact, lobster mushrooms can be used to dye wool, fabric or paper.
- Lobster mushrooms go well with stir-fries, soups, stews, terrines, and egg dishes, such as frittatas and omelettes.
- Be sure not to overcook this mushroom, as the flavor and aroma are delicate and can be lost.
- Some like to chop lobster mushrooms into regular-sized chunks and tempura fry them.
- Use in seafood dishes—with actual lobster or crab, or bisque, to enhance the seafood aroma.