Like lobster? Now is the time to get out there and get yours!

Lobster Mushroom, lobsters -

Like lobster? Now is the time to get out there and get yours!

3 Lobster mushrooms still in groundWhen I suggest to people that we are heading out to hunt Lobsters, I get a lot of raised eyebrows. "I thought you were into mushrooms?" they say. "Are you switching over to seafood now?"

No, I assure them. While I do like seafood — a lot, and crabbing is one of my favorite things — of course I'm speaking of Lobster mushrooms, which is the vegetarian equivalent of the tasty crustacean. And there's lots of good news here ... the first is, you don't need to get wet (well, at least not very wet) to hunt them. The second is, the price. While these mushrooms can command nearly $30 in the supers, when you can find them, it's easy to walk away with 5 or 10 pounds after only an hour or two of hunting in the right spot. And third, you won't get pinched in the process!

What is a Lobster Mushroom? There are several varieties of mushroom that, while edible, are pretty boring. But, they are susceptible to infection by a fungus called Hypomyces lactiflourum.

The type of mushroom around these parts (the Pacific Northwest) that most commonly gets infected is the Russula brevipes. We sometimes find R. brevipes that have not yet been infected, and they are boring indeed.

But, what happens when they get infected is another story. They typically balloon up to a much larger size (I've seen them weighing several pounds each), turn bright red like a boiled lobster (which makes them easy to spot, though as you can see in the photo above they are still a little bashful and the bulk of them is usually under the humus), and the flavor changes to ... guess what? Yup. Lobster! Amazing.

(By the way ... I often tell people that, to me, mushrooms prove the existence of God. I've written a lot of blog posts about this. And this is just another evidence of that. God has an amazing sense of humor. Who would have thought that infecting a boring mushroom with another fungus would cause it to look and taste like a wonderful lobster? Ponder that for a bit, if you will.)

Lobster mushrooms like this time of year, coming on shortly before the Chanterelles do. There are a lot of Chanterelles out there right now, but due to lack of recent rains they are fairly immature and dry in texture. But the lobsters go deep, frequently growing near streams, and suck up the moisture as they swell.

I love this 'surf & turf' idea (venison with lobster mushrooms) from the Voyager Chef website: are highly prized in Asia, so many migratory pickers comb through the forests looking for them. We see them almost every time we are out. They are in a hurry. When they find a lobster, they slice through the stipe (the stem), looking for evidence of worms or rotting (which lobsters are susceptible to as they get older). We see large piles of sliced lobster stipe, and some discarded mushrooms, every time we are hunting. In fact, that's one clue that lobsters may be near.

I always start along streams, as they usually occur within 50 or 100 feet. The humus (the decaying matter on the forest floor) must be thick with pine needles and other debris. And they are often found in the same types of turf preferred by Chanterelles.

When you harvest, smell them and make sure they are firm to the touch and don't smell like rotting fish. If they are soft, chalky, and break off too easily, they are probably past their prime.

So, how do you prepare Lobsters? My son, Nathan, is the expert at this. He likes to roast them in the oven, sprinkling them with olive oil then kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. He also likes them as a lobster substitute in certain Asian dishes, particularly Thai foods like Tom kha.

A few decent Lobsters and immature Chanterelles found in a late August foray.The good news is that just a few good Lobsters go a long ways. As you can see from the "selfie" photo associated with this post, they are a decent size, often a pound or heavier. Collecting just a half dozen in a foray gives me plenty to deal with. I find they dehydrate well; I cut them into large chunks and dry them for 24 hours in the dehydrator, then store them for at least a year in ziplock baggies. Rehydrating is easy; stir them as is into soups, or let them sit in warm water for a few hours. (And you may want to reserve the liquid, which will be lobster-flavored!)

As with most wild mushrooms, be sure to clean thoroughly with a soft brush, and cook well in the process of preparation, as you will be sure to be ingesting some little bits of forest debris. Many people are sickened by eating wild mushrooms raw; not by the mushrooms themselves, but by whatever bacteria may be living on them.

Enjoy those delicious crustacean wannabees! And please let me know your favorite recipes, okay?

Photos on this page:

Top: A "Lobster selfie" taken yesterday morning with foray friends Mary and John in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Above left: Three lobsters still in the ground, poking their bright orange selves out of the humus.

Above right: I love this "surf & turf" idea (venison with lobster mushrooms) from the "Forager Chef" website.

Bottom left: Several nice lobsters found near streams during a mid-August foray, with some rather immature and dry-ish Golden Chanterelles found on the slopes above them.


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