Known for their striking orange color and seafood-like flavor, lobster mushrooms are a forager’s delight and a chef’s treasure. Locally, we are blessed with a diverse range of forests, providing a perfect habitat for various fungi, including the lobster mushroom. These fungi typically appear in late summer to early autumn, thriving in damp, wooded areas. They are actually a parasitic mold that grows on certain species of mushrooms, transforming them into the sought-after lobster mushrooms.
One of the joys of foraging for lobster mushrooms is their versatility in the kitchen. Their firm texture and seafood-like taste make them suitable for a variety of dishes. From simple sautés to elaborate gourmet meals, these mushrooms add a unique twist to any recipe.
When foraging, it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Foragers should be well-versed in mushroom identification, as some varieties can be toxic. Lobster mushrooms are generally easier to identify due to their unique appearance, but beginners are advised to forage with experienced individuals or to consult field guides.
Foraging for lobster mushrooms in Western North Carolina is not just about finding a culinary ingredient; it’s about connecting with nature, understanding local ecosystems, and enjoying the outdoors. With the right knowledge and respect for the environment, it can be a rewarding experience for both novice and experienced foragers alike.
Fresh pasta is ideal, but dried pasta will also work for this recipe. Bring a 4-6 qt pot of water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add salt to the pot.
While waiting for the water to boil, rinse the lobster mushrooms quickly and pat them dry carefully. Other mushrooms can also be used, or dried mushrooms if fresh ones are not in season. Mince the garlic and shallots and set them aside for later use. Using a peeler, peel the lemon skins and julienne cut them. Make a quick simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the syrup to a boil then remove from heat and pour over the cut lemons to infuse.
In a large saute pan, big enough to later hold the cooked pasta, heat some cooking oil over medium heat. Once hot, increase the heat to medium-high. Add the mushrooms and saute for a couple minutes until lightly browned. Next add the minced garlic and shallots. Deglaze the pan with lobster stock and let reduce for 5 minutes before lowering the heat to medium. Add the cream and cheese to the pan, saving a bit of pecorino cheese to use as garnish later.
Once the pasta has finished blanching, add it to the sauce in the saute pan along with the peas, herbs, and lemon slices. Pro-tip: adding about 1/2 cup of the water the pasta was blanched in will help keep it “saucy”.
Finish by swirling in a bit of butter. Season with salt and pepper throughout the cooking process to build maximum flavor. Garnish individual portions with the reserved pecorino cheese and panko breadcrumbs that have been toasted in some olive oil.