Bun Lai’s Crispy Fried Mushrooms

By Yankee Magazine

Mar 27 2019


The “batter” for these tempura mushrooms is a simple blend of cornstarch, herbs, and spices

Photo Credit : Amy Traverso

One of the paradoxes of modern dining is that many people who care about sustainability are eating sushi with little awareness that some of the most popular varieties — bluefin tuna, shrimp, eel, etc. — are also the least sustainable. As the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program explains, these species are either overfished, caught in ways that hurt other species, or come from poorly managed fisheries. On top of this, some seafood is high in mercury or contains antibiotics or other chemicals that are banned in the U.S.

At Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, the Lai family is leading the charge to make sushi healthy and sustainable. They eschew tuna in favor of locally farmed tilapia and incorporate plants, mushrooms, and sea vegetables in their dishes.

In episode one in season 3 of Weekends with Yankee, we spent a day with Bun Lai, the chef at Miya’s (and son of founder Yoshiko Lai). Bun grew up foraging ingredients with his mother, and as he learned more about the food system and its impact on the environment, he completely revamped the Miya’s menu. Lately, he’s taken a special interest in edible invasive species, such as European green crabs, Japanese knotweed, kudzu, and lionfish. He’s learned how to make them delicious, either on their own or alongside more familiar flavors like sweet potato, miso, sesame, and ramen noodles.

He also forages local mushrooms, and one of the most popular dishes at Miya’s is a vegan take on fried chicken that replaces the meat with wild hen of the woods mushrooms or farmed oyster mushrooms (the latter are available at most supermarkets). Like fried chicken, these mushrooms come out crunchy, golden brown, and rich with herbs and spices. “It’s a marriage between fried chicken and tempura but without the chicken or the tempura,” he says, “a finger-licking-good twist on Japanese ginger-fried chicken.” He calls them “Karma Virtue Chickenots” on the Miya’s menu, and we love them as an easy-to-make (and downright addictive) starter or snack.

Note: It’s very useful to test the temperature of your oil and try to keep it in the 350°–375° range. If the temperature is too low, the mushrooms will be oily; if it’s too high, they’ll burn.


4 servings


Canola oil for frying
1½ teaspoons garlic salt
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1 cup cornstarch, preferably organic
4 ounces oyster or hen of the woods mushrooms


Add enough oil to medium skillet or Dutch oven to reach a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Set over medium heat and bring oil temperature to 350° to 375° while you prepare the mushrooms.

Mix the spices and herbs together in a bowl, then add cornstarch and whisk together.

Rinse the mushrooms under cold running water (do not soak) and remove any debris and insects. Cut into bite-sized morsels (even the stems are delicious). Dry with a cloth, but leave them slightly damp so the coating sticks.

Toss the mushrooms in the coating and massage into every nook and cranny. Remove the mushrooms, shaking off any excess coating, and let sit for five minutes to allow the cornstarch to moisten.

Fry the mushrooms in small batches until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes, turning as needed, then remove and drain on paper towels. Periodically check the temperature of the oil and adjust as needed. Serve with wedge of lemon or lime.