The mushroom kingdom is a pretty adventurous place to explore. For every delicious cap of meaty nuttiness, you’re just as likely stumble across something lethal. Every year, newspapers fill with stories of unfortunate foragers who make the mistake of thinking that they knew what they were eating, before sitting down to steaming a bowl of cream of death cap soup. As a rule, if you aren’t totally sure what you’re about to put in your mouth, strange mushrooms are best given a wide berth.
On the other hand, if you do decide to branch out, there are some seriously awesome shrooms out there. Some look like a piece of freshly pickled brain, while others bleed a deep, ultramarine milk as soon as they are sliced in two. As cool as these are, however, they pale in comparison to the world famous and extremely delicious “hypomyces lactifluorum” - commonly known as the lobster mushroom.
Technically, lobster mushrooms aren’t actually mushrooms at all. Instead, they are a parasitic species of fungi that itself grows on several different types of true mushroom, slowly turning them to the vibrant orange of perfectly cooked seafood. As dramatic as this visual transformation can be, what really makes these mushrooms remarkable is that they taste exactly like their aquatic namesake.
This incredible and completely unique flavour profile makes the mushrooms highly sought after. Native to the Pacific coast of America, mature lobster mushrooms are highly seasonal and tricky to find, meaning that they can command a premium for any forager lucky enough to find some. At the right time of year, they can end up selling for just as much as an actual lobster. Considering they’re a ready made veggie alternative to one of the most delicious foods on earth, this seems like a pretty good deal.
Such is the lobster mushroom’s status that many top vegetarian friendly restaurants incorporate it into their menus. A extreme example is the epic and utterly original vegan “seafood tower” from Hollywood’s Crossroads Kitchen, which recreates several classic shellfish dishes entirely out of plants. For the less ambitious, lobster mushrooms are a great way to add a hint of the ocean to any number of pastas or risottos.
If you don’t happen to live in the north-western United States, or don’t have many contacts in the mushroom foraging community, there are other ways of getting your hands on this amazing fungus. Several specialist fungi distributors stock both dried and fresh varieties, so provided you’re prepared to pay the price, you can consider including it on you menu for home-cooked special occasions.
With man made meat-alternatives becoming better and better by the year, it’s easy to forget that nature still has a few tricks up its sleeve. If you’re a big believer in an all natural approach to eating, an ingredient like lobster mushroom is a godsend. Great fishy flavour, with none of the killing. Two boxes ticked for the seafood-loving vegetarian.