There are many different kinds of fried chicken. Some with a thin, golden coat that rips when you bite into it and some so crispy that it rustles in the box. Then there’s this—chicken tenders so unapologetically, audibly crunchy they could clink together like champagne glasses on New Year’s night. It’s like the difference between kettle-cooked potato chips and those wispy, extruded wafers trying to pass as the real deal. Ya just can’t compete!
The trick is using ground raw lentils for the crumb. I was inspired by the delicate, airy medu vadas of my childhood in Southern India and the shattering shells of freshly fried falafel I used to devour from a cart in Astoria. Lentils are so often relegated to limp, stodgy soups or stews, but give them some time in a puddle of hot oil and they transform into something wonderfully brittle and friable. And they pack a powerful punch of fiber and protein, too.
The buttermilk here works two ways: Besides lending its subtle lactic tang, it gently hydrates the lentils and helps them stick firmly to the chicken. Be sure to give the tenders the 15-minute rest they deserve for this magic to work.
For the curry powder in the ketchup, try and seek out a Japanese blend. I love S&B brand for its smooth, round depth. (The Japanese adopted a British interpretation of Indian curry, brought to their shores by the Royal Navy in the late 19th century. Ever since, karē raisu has been a Japanese staple. For more on this history, read Makiko Itoh's piece in The Japan Times or Bettina Makalintal's for Vice.)
And while the curry ketchup is great, ranch dressing wouldn’t be remiss—or anything else you fancy, really. The chicken is the real star here. —Shilpa Uskokovic
- Prep time 40 minutes
- Cook time 20 minutes
- Makes 12 chicken fingers
- Lentil Chicken Tenders
Fine sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
all-purpose flour (bleached or unbleached)
(1 to 1 1/3 pounds) boneless chicken tenders
neutral oil (like sunflower or avocado), for pan-frying
- Spice Sprinkle & Curry Ketchup
Old Bay seasoning
light brown sugar
ketchup (I love Sir Kensington brand)
- Use a spice grinder to grind the lentils till they’re more or less the size of sesame seeds. Some will turn powdery, some will remain their original size—that’s OK. Aim for somewhere in the middle, taking care not to process them to a flour. Grind in 2 to 3 batches as needed and pour the ground lentils into a shallow bowl. Season with the garlic powder and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Add the flour to a small bowl and season with a small pinch of salt.
- Whisk the buttermilk and eggs along with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl.
- Blot-dry the chicken tenders with paper towels. Season lightly with salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each).
- Set up a dredging station in this order from left to right: chicken, seasoned flour, egg mixture, ground lentils, and a half sheet pan. Shake one piece of chicken in the bowl of flour to coat. Dip into the egg mixture. Fish it out, letting any excess egg drip back into the bowl, then drop into the bowl of ground lentils. Turn the chicken around so it’s well coated, then transfer to the sheet pan.
- Repeat with the remaining chicken tenders, then let them rest for 15 minutes.
- While the chicken is resting, stir together the Old Bay seasoning and brown sugar in a small bowl and set it by the stove. Whisk together the ingredients for the curry ketchup in a small serving bowl. Set up a wire rack with parchment or paper towels beneath to catch any drips.
- Heat the oil over a medium heat in a 10-inch skillet, preferably cast-iron. To test if it’s ready for frying, dip the end of a wooden chopstick into the oil. If a lot of small to medium bubbles fizz around the chopstick, you’re good to go!
- Pan-fry the chicken, 3 to 4 pieces at a time. Fry for 3 minutes on the first side, then flip carefully and give them another 3 minutes. At this point, the chicken should be cooked through and the lentils will have fried to a crackling golden brown. Remove the tenders to the wire rack.
- Whilst the chicken is still hot, toss the spice sprinkle all over it.
- Serve right away with the curry ketchup for dipping. A plate of crunchy, spicy dill pickles alongside is just the ticket.