Jun 28, 2016

How to Forage, Clean, & Eat Lobster Mushrooms (with Roasted Lobster Mushrooms in Clarified Butter recipe)

I confess it: I've never been much of a mushroom person. But until recently the only mushrooms I'd ever eaten were button mushrooms found in the grocery store or on pizza. And as much as I love to forage for wild foods, foraging for mushrooms has always scared me: Every year, I hear stories about people who've seriously poisoned themselves by picking and eating misidentified wild mushrooms.

But my dad-in-law is a huge mushroom fan, and he's been telling me about a friend of his who's a mushroom expert. And, Dad claimed, he had an easy to identify mushroom growing on his property that he just had to try eating. So yesterday morning, when he mentioned he wanted to go pick some lobster mushrooms and hinted he'd like me to look into cleaning and cooking them, I decided to give it a go. (I did ask, "Are we sure we can't mistake them for something poisonous?" To which he replied, "No, we can't. I even showed one to my friend to make sure I was identifying them correctly." Further research revealed there are no poisonous look-alikes to the lobster mushroom.)


What Lobster Mushrooms Taste Like

Lobster mushroom.
First, you probably want to know what lobster mushrooms taste like. I found their flavor difficult to describe, in part because it varied slightly from mushroom to mushroom. However, to me they are reminiscent of a white meat in both texture and flavor, with mild overtones of seafood - and the butter I cooked them in. My dad-in-law and husband, however, thought these mushrooms were reminiscent of steak; I suspect this was due to the way I roasted them.

I was impressed by the mushroom's texture. It was not at all mushy, but firm and meaty. Again, I don't normally like mushrooms, but I found lobster mushrooms absolutely delicious.

If you're curious about how healthy these mushrooms are, you should know they are mostly carbohydrate (about 3 grams per cup), along with a small amount of fiber and protein (1 gram each per cup) and some iron and calcium.



Identifying Lobster Mushrooms

Lobster mushrooms are unique and tough to misidentify. Look for their bright red-orange color, which looks a bit like the red-orange on lobsters. We found our specimens growing on a north facing hill where Douglas Fir and Hemlock trees grew. Much of what we harvested was mostly buried beneath moss and weeds; fortunately, the mushrooms' bright color made them easy to spot.

Most of the mushrooms we found were largely buried under moss and weeds.
Lobster mushrooms have an irregular shape - in part because they are actually two fungi. They consist of the host, which is either a Russulas or Lactarius mushroom, and a parasite called Hypomyces. The Hypomyces infects the mushroom, transforming it into the deformed, dense, and roughly textured thing we call a lobster mushroom. The mushroom's caps often have cracks in them and the mushroom has no gills. Depending upon where you live, lobsters are available most of the year, or mainly in the fall. For more tips on properly identifying lobster mushrooms, click over to Mushroom-Collecting.com.

WARNING: Never, ever eat any wild food you cannot absolutely identify. It's just not worth the risk!

We found our lobster mushrooms on a north facing hill.
Foraging for Lobster Mushrooms

For best flavor, choose only the best specimens. Look for mushrooms with the characteristic bright red-orange color, that have few cracks in the caps. Slugs and snails, as well as deer and probably other wild critters, love to eat lobster mushrooms, so try to find mushrooms that aren't nibbled on. Before cooking lobster mushrooms, cut them in half to check for freshness. If they are good for eating, the interior will be very white. If the interior is browned at all, it's best to toss the mushroom.

It's best to remove the mushrooms by cutting the stems.
As a reminder: When foraging, be a good steward. Get permission to forage on private land, and make sure you understand state and federal rules about foraging on public land. Even when foraging on your own land, use care to ensure next year's harvest. With lobster mushrooms, the best way to do that is to cut the mushroom off its stem, rather than pull it from the ground. Always leave some mushrooms exactly as they are in the ground so they can send out spores to produce mushrooms for future foraging by humans and animals.

Cleaning and Storing Lobster Mushrooms

A few minute's worth of harvest!
Once you have the mushrooms home, you can prepare them for storage or for immediate use.

Preparing for storage: Lobster mushrooms are best eaten within three days of harvesting, but may store for as long as seven days. To prep them for storage, simply brush off as much dirt as possible. A clean pastry brush or paint brush works well for this. Then gently place the mushrooms in a paper bag, roll the top of the bag closed, and place in the refrigerator.

Preparing to eat: Once you're ready to eat some lobster mushrooms, you'll need to clean them in earnest. Although many mushrooms are ruined by washing, lobster mushrooms do just fine if cleaned in water: Fill a bowl with water, then add the mushrooms. Slosh them gently in the water and let them sit for a minute, then use a fabric or paper towel to gently brush away the remaining dirt.

Cleaning the mushrooms. Eat only the mushrooms that are bright red-orange. I had to discard the mostly white one at the top of the photo because it was brown on the inside and not suitable for eating.
When you cut open a good lobster mushroom, the inside should look bright white.
How to Cook Lobster Mushrooms

There are many ways to cook lobster mushrooms, but simple recipes are the best way to get a feel for the texture and taste of this unique fungi. Here's how I cooked them.

Roasted Lobster Mushrooms in Clarified Butter

Lobster mushrooms
Clarified butter (Learn how to easily make it here. You could also use ordinary butter, though the flavor of the dish will be slightly different.)
Onion
Sea salt
Pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Cut cleaned lobster mushrooms in half. For larger mushrooms, cut in quarters.

3. Place an oven proof skillet over medium heat. Once it's warmed a little, add a couple of tablespoons of clarified butter. Once the butter is warm, gently add the mushrooms, cut side down.

4. Cook the mushrooms until browned, then turn and cook another side. Season with sea salt and pepper. As you cook, the mushrooms will give off a seafood-like scent. Keep cooking, turning the mushroom until all sides are browned. Periodically, spoon butter that's already in the skillet over the cooking mushrooms.

5. Place the skillet in the oven and set the timer for about 12 minutes.

6. In the meantime, chop the onion. (I cooked two medium sized mushrooms, and used about 1/4 of a yellow onion, and had more onion than I really needed.) Place a skillet over medium heat and add a little clarified butter. Once the butter is warm, add the onion and cook and stir until softened and golden brown. Keep warm over low heat.


7. After 12 minutes, check the mushrooms. They should be well browned, looking a lot like meat. Plate the mushrooms and sprinkle some cooked onion over them. Serve immediately.


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