Lobster Mushrooms

Langdon Cook goes lobster hunting--in the woods.

Beginning around Labor Day, I’ll be heading into the mountains to go lobster hunting. Say what?

I’m in search of a crustacean of the woods. It looks a lot like a boiled lobster: fire-engine red. Such blazing color is often nature’s way of saying “Do not touch,” but not so with the aptly named lobster mushroom. I scoop as many as I can find into a bucket and haul them home for a tasty meal of land fish.

Mycologists will tell you that the lobster mushroom is the result of one fungus parasitizing another. Around here, the usual host is a type of white, gilled mushroom known as the short-stemmed russula. When the lobster fungus, Hypomyces lactifluorum, attacks it, an unpalatable mushroom is miraculously transformed into a choice—if weird-looking—edible.

Lobster mushrooms have a velvety texture when sautéed, not unlike cooked lobster, and their succulent meat hints pleasantly at seafood. Processing one can be a chore: Lobster mushrooms collect more than their share of dirt on a cap riddled with nooks and crannies. Don’t be afraid to scrub them hard, and then dice them up and sauté with a little butter, cream and cognac to make a colorful duxelles.

September is a good month to hunt. The woods surrounding Seattle are lousy with lobsters; they especially like old-growth Douglas-fir forests. We start to see them in local farmers markets in August.

Check out Lang's recipe for lobster mushroom risotto on his blog, Fat of the Land.