2016 has been a doozy of a mushroom foraging season.. Drought conditions have made for some pretty low-key mushrooming expeditions this summer. A handful of chanterelles here, a dry chicken of the woods there; mostly just the dried remains of last years flushes. For most mushroom species the summer of 2016 will go down as one of the worst seasons in recent memory, however, I have rarely seen one species look as beautiful as it has coming from the Maine woods this past month.
Lobster mushrooms don't have the legions of fervent aficionados that Porcini and Chanterelle mushrooms command, but they are equally delicious. A classic accompaniment to seafood dishes, mushroom risottos, and all foods Italian.
Lobster mushrooms are actually two different fungi, one parasitizing the other. Hypomyces lactifluorum is a parasite that grows as the signature orange skin on two otherwise inedible species, Lactarius piperatus and Russula brevipes, rendering them delicious. There have been anecdotal accounts that Hypomyces lactifluorum may potentially parasitize a poisonous mushroom species instead of it's normal hosts and create a mushroom that looks like an edible lobster mushroom that is actually poisonous. This is unlikely and has no research to back up the postulation. Lobster mushrooms have hundreds of years of documented edibility and they are generally considered a great mushroom for beginner foragers. There really is nothing else in the woods that they resemble!
Lobster mushroom caps are always irregular, a side-effect of the parasitizing fungi warping and manipulating its host, gills are non-existent and are instead a ridged surface that won't bend or move with touch. The inner flesh of a fresh specimen when cut is almost always pure white. They do tend to brown a bit when old or rotting, and sometimes have an orangey hue. Check out David Spahr's website to help with identification. He's a Maine mycologist that has a wonderful book on wild mushroom identification in New England called 'Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada.' Always remember the mushroom forager's primary rule: when in doubt, throw it out! Aren't 100% sure what it is? Don't eat it!
I'm curious if any of you out there have had experiences foraging for this mushroom. How did you cook it? Anybody made a dish with wild Atlantic lobster and lobster mushrooms? Have you found any other mushrooms this season in the dry Maine woods?
Close to all the lobster mushrooms I've ever collected found their way into two quintessential mushroom dishes. In the fall I love to make wild mushroom risotto, there is something therapeutic about spooning wild mushroom broth over simmering arborio rice. I tend to make my risotto with lobster mushrooms, black trumpet chanterelle, and porcini. I almost always use dried mushrooms for risotto. Unfortunately risotto is about the last meal I want to make in 90 degree weather, so I have a good fall back recipe that's simple and quick and uses only a few ingredients. I simply sauté fresh sliced lobster mushrooms with a couple tablespoons of butter until they have browned slightly, add some dry white wine, garlic, and whatever fresh herbs I have growing in the garden, and spoon it generously over a grilled white fish like halibut! It's great with a chilled wild-rice salad or farro.
Dried lobster mushrooms are found in most specialty or natural food stores and are also quite tasty!