It has been a tough mushroom season here in Minnesota. The lack of rain has stymied all of the fun that should be the end of summer. One species that has seemed to survive the drought though is the lobster mushroom. One day after a light rainfall last week, my friend and I pulled 50+lbs from an acre or two of woods. It was stunning. We were on a search for hen of the woods in Southern Minnesota. Only one of the elusive hens had shown itself when my friend said to me:
“Hey Alan, what are these red things?”
Out of all the mushrooms that grow in Minnesota that you can eat, the lobster mushroom is one of the easiest of all to hunt. The hypomyces lactiflourum (fungus that infects types of russula mushroom it and transforms it) makes each fruiting change into warped shapes, like mushrooms from another dimension. Their deep shade of red is unmistakeable. You will be able to pick them out from under the leaves they hide in easily; they don’t try to hide. It goes without saying that their color is striking, also their aroma of fish when aging is an easy way to tell if you have a real lobster. Its easy to locate ones that get lost in the car as well, imagine leaving dried shrimp under your seat in the sun!
With their often enormous size,these can easily be a stand in for protein in vegetarian dishes or vegan dishes. The red layer on the outside of the mushroom, when exposed to heat and oil, will stain things yellow, just like paprika or saffron. It needs to be exposed to oil and heat though, cooking a lobster mushroom raw in a liquid will not achieve the same effect, giving you a dull red or off putting shade of light pink.
I am trying to emphasize the color effect here in the recipe, which is not difficult at all. A whole lobster mushroom is caramelized lightly and browned in oil or butter, deglazed with white wine, then the liquid reduced and fortified with stock. The liquid in the pan is again reduced slightly and a small amount of butter is whisked in to thicken the sauce, giving it body and sheen.
The other components of the dish are wheatberries, (the complete kernel of wheat), and wild spinach, or lamb’s quarter. Three ingredients are prepared simply, a dish that’s easy to elaborate upon.
Braised Lobster Mushroom With Wild Spinach and Wheatberries
Serves 4 as a vegetarian main course
- 4 very fresh, whole lobster mushrooms about 3-4 ounces each
- A handful of wild spinach per person, trimmed into small clusters of leaves
- 3/4 cup hard winter wheat berries
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, vegetarians use vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp fragrant and tasty oil for drizzling, such as sunflower oil or a nice extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter to finish the sauce (optional-vegans omit, your sauce will just be more loose)
- 4 cups water
- Salt and white pepper
- Bring the dry wheatberries to a boil in lightly salted water, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour or until the wheatberries are reasonably tender, adding more water to keep the wheatberries covered if it evaporates.
- After an hour they will be chewy a bit still, if you want them done more, cook for an additional 1/2 hour to 1 hour, though some might explode. Cool and reserve the wheatberries until needed.
Finishing and plating
- Saute the lobster mushroom is a wide, high sided pan with a couple tablespoons of oil, a small “pasta pot” that everyone has laying around would work. You just need the sides of the pan to be higher than the lobster mushrooms. I a 10 inch, deep saute pan, with high sides. Once the mushrooms have taken a little color (about 5-10) minutes, season them with salt and white pepper, cook for a few minutes more, and then deglaze with the wine. Reduce the wine until it is almost gone from the pan and is a bit syrupy, about 5 minutes.
- Next add the stock, cover the pot, and let cook slowly for 5-10 minutes, or until the lobster mushrooms are totally heated through and cooked.
- Reduce the juice in the pan down by half, add the wheat berries and butter, then heat until lightly thickened, adjust the seasoning for salt/white pepper if needed. Using a slotted spoon, place the wheatberries and wild spinach on each of 4 warmed dinner plates, making a little mound of wheatberries to place the lobster mushrooms on.
- Top the wheatberry mounds with the lobster mushroom and then drizzle with the jus left in the pan.
- Garnish with the olive oil and serve immediately.
I created some easy how to videos to illustrate techniques for braising whole lobster mushrooms and picking lamb’s quarter for you.