Before you even get a chance to take a bite, the aroma of a salty effervescence hits your nostrils. You're instantly transported to the Maine coast, ready to dig into a generous helping. The first taste comes, and the familiar briny sweetness of lobster resonates inside of your mouth.
It's only when you come back to reality and see what's in front of you that you realize you're not eating freshly cooked lobster. You instead just bit into a lobster mushroom, an equally pricey fungus that gives you the same aromatic experience that the beloved crustacean does.
Photo: Constantine Spyrou
Native to the forests of North America (particularly the Pacific Northwest), the lobster mushroom is actually unique in that it's not entirely a mushroom. It comes about as the result of a parasitic fungus that attacks certain mushroom species, contorting their shapes and giving them a reddish-pink hue, similar to that of a cooked crustacean.
The parasite also changes the flavor and aroma of the mushroom, becoming similar to that of seafood. As such, it can be used as a natural substitute for lobster or shrimp in several dishes. You may find it, for example, serving as the "shrimp cocktail" in an epic plant-based seafood tower in Hollywood, or used to add a punch of briny flavor to a wild mushroom ragu.
In a world where food scientists are using technology to make plants taste like meat, it's interesting to find the rare times that nature itself had something that does just that all along. The lobster mushroom is a perfect example of that.
For those interested in getting these yourselves, they do require foraging (or purchasing from a forager that specializes in gathering them). They are hyper seasonal, and can go for as much as regular lobster by the pound.