The story of the lobster is a very interesting one.
If you noticed they don’t look like typical stem-cap-gill mushrooms, you’d be right. Well, about half right. Lobsters are actually a mushroom that get parisitized by another fungus, called Hypomyces. The Hypomyces fungus seems to infect areas where russula and lactarius mushrooms grow, causing them to change shape and contort themselves. The funny part is that the tranformation makes the mushrooms taste better than they would before. They only have a slight flavor and aroma of shellfish/crustaceans fresh, but this intensifies when they’re dried.
Not only are these great mushrooms to eat, but there also one of the easiest to hunt. You can casually look for these in the woods like you would chanterelles, walking down a path until you see one. It’s bright red and easy to spot, not brown like a hen of the woods or a black like a trumpet. They do like to hide under the leaves though.
Where I live in Minnesota, these will grow in the summer after Chanterelles in hardwood forests, usually starting around July-August. Look for places where milk cap mushrooms grow, or where you see them nearby-they could be a clue lobsters will be about. You will find them scattered about, if you find one, look around closely, as there will be more nearby. Sometimes I find them growing in the same places as Chanterelles, in oak forests in southern MN. In northern Minnesota, I find Lobster Mushrooms scattered about in areas with Birch and other mixed woods.
There’s plenty to know about these. Here’s a few quick tips:
I wash the majority of my wild mushrooms unless I can see they’re perfectly free of dirt and debris, and. Unlike other mushrooms, chanterelles or morels for example, the Hypomyces coating of a lobster mushroom repels water, to a degree. Don’t even think about soaking them in a sink though, as they do soak up water, just not as fast as others.
These are an interesting anomaly. Sometimes you might run into lobster mushrooms that seem like they haven’t fully undergone the transformation to hypomyces lactiflourum from their natural state. Don’t worry though, after a number of years, heated discussions with foragers, chefs, and mycologists, and cooking and serving hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of these, I can tell you that if it’s looks like a lobster, even half way, and seems to be parasitized by the Hypomyces, its edible, and good. White lobster mushrooms have a slightly different, almost more tender texture, think of them as a hard-to-find delicacy. I also wrote another post on white lobster mushrooms if you want to take a look.
Culinary wise, when you combine the wide distribution with the quantity that can be harvested, these are a great mushroom, but the drawback is that they lack in flavor compared to something like a chanterelle. To get the most out of your lobsters, proper caramelization is key.
They deteriorate quickly, but make wonderful pickles. If you get a hold of some fresh ones, cut them into large chunks and saute them in some butter with salt first, then eat them all by themselves just to taste their flavor, it’s mild, but like I mentioned, concentrates when dried.
Here are some basic things I’ve learned from years of cooking with these:
After cooking, any leftover dish you’ve made with lobster mushrooms needs to be eaten within a day or two, so label and date food you put in the fridge. Eating old lobster mushroom dishes has led to a number of cases of “mushroom poisoning”, and it’s a horrible ordeal. Don’t be tempted to eat a past prime mushroom just because it’s in your fridge and you forgot to get to it, or sometimes more sluethy mushroom leftovers that don’t have a date on them. I’ve found this is especially imortant with lobster mushrooms. I don’t have any scientific studies to site, but I can tell you a few horror stories I’ve seen, and heard about.
I’m not a mycologist, or a doctor, but the lobster mushroom “allergy” rumor circulating appears to be due to the fact that lobster mushrooms contain a quantity of iodine, which could account for some of the slight fishy aroma. Some people with sensitivities to iodine, shellfish and or fish allergies, seem to have trouble eating lobster mushrooms, and experience mild allergic symptoms. I haven’t personally witnessed this though, so you’re on your own with it-sample small amounts if you have a shellfish allergy. Also, if it happens that anyone knows of studies or instances of this allergy, let me know so I can update this post.
Here’s some of my favorites or places lobsters could be substituted.