This easy recipe for buffalo cauliflower bites is made in the Air Fryer for a low-calorie, Paleo-friendly appetizer or side dish. Naturally gluten free and dairy-free, too!
Buffalo, New York!
I live a long, long way from Buffalo New York (I live very close to New York City, and Buffalo is way, way upstate NY), but I feel some irrational pride about the origins of Buffalo sauce. But when Teressa Bellissimo created the special sauce to serve with (as the story goes) a mistaken shipment of chicken wings, she made it with hot sauce and butter.
I've never been a huge fan of wings (so much work!), but I do love the sauce. Here, though, rather than using a traditional Buffalo sauce on wings (or cauliflower!), I season these Buffalo cauliflower bites before they're cooked and then serve them with Sriracha mayonnaise.
Cooking with cauliflower
Cauliflower is to vegetables as cashews are to nuts: a blank canvas. When eaten raw, cauliflower has a unique flavor and of course a crunchy texture, but you won't find most people eating it raw.
When cooked, it's incredibly versatile. You can make it into a creamy cauliflower soup, cauliflower fried rice, cauliflower fritters or even cauliflower tortillas. Similar to tofu (or cashews), it tends to take on the flavors of whatever you cook or bake it with.
It wasn't my idea first, to make cauliflower into Buffalo cauliflower, but it was a very good idea indeed. I decided to make it into a crispy, spicy appetizer with hot sauce and dried spices, and then tossed in Sriracha mayonnaise. That way, if you have some pro-spice people (my son, my husband, me) in your family, some light spice people (my youngest) and some anti-spice people (my oldest), everyone's happy!
Can you really “fry” in an Air Fryer?
I would say you can “fry,” but not FRY in an Air Fryer. When I first started using the Air Fryer (I have which by the way I really do love my Power XL Air Fryer 5.3 quart), I didn't know much about it except that it was gaining popularity.
I assumed that I'd try out an Air Fryer, just so I could at least answer reader questions about it, and that would be that. Well, color me surprised because it turned out that I really love it. ? But it's not frying. It's just not.
When I tried making donuts, and then fried wontons in the Air Fryer, I learned pretty quickly what it means to “Air Fry.” If you want something to taste like it was actually fried at all, you need to use more than a very light dusting of oil.
You will never need that much oil, but if you only use a very light spray, air fried food will taste like it was baked in an oven. Because that's really what an Air Fryer is: a high-speed convection oven. I've found that, if you coat the food with oil before you put it in the machine, you'll be able to truly coat it well.
Ingredients and substitutions
As always, except where specifically noted, I haven't tested this recipe with substitutions. These are mostly my best-educated guesses!
Tapioca starch/flour: I haven't tried replacing the tapioca with another starch, but I think that potato starch would work well, and so would arrowroot.
Spices: These are really a matter of personal preference, but you don't want to skimp on the salt—or on the smoked paprika and cumin. Those spices really give the cauliflower its depth of flavor.
Sriracha: If you'd prefer to use a more traditional hot sauce, like Frank's, in place of Sriracha, go for it!
Egg-free: The eggs in the milk mixture really give the cauliflower some dimension when it's cooked in the Air Fryer. I've tested the recipe with just a coating of milk, without the eggs, and I don't recommend it.
The coating doesn't stick as well, and the cauliflower tastes kind of flat. You can try thickening the milk mixture with some of the tapioca starch instead and adding baking powder for some lift.
Air Fryer-free: This recipe can easily be made on a baking sheet in a 425°F oven. It just won't get as crispy, but it still works. You'll get best results by placing the prepared cauliflower florets on a wire rack on top of the baking sheet, so the hot air of the oven can circulate underneath.
The cauliflower should take about 20 minutes to cook in the oven. For a deeper flavor, you can toss the cauliflower in the Sriracha mayonnaise after 10 minutes, then return it to the oven to finish baking.
Air Fryer Buffalo Cauliflower Bites
3/4 cup (96 g) tapioca starch/flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon dried minced onion
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) unsweetened nondairy milk (to keep it Paleo)
1 egg (any size)
1 medium-sized head of cauliflower, washed and cut into florets
1 cup (224 g) mayonnaise
2 to 4 tablespoons Sriracha style hot chile sauce, to taste (I like Sriracha Cha! by Texas Pete, as it’s certified gluten free, but use your favorite hot sauce; it has “sugar” so it’s not technically Paleo)
Prepare the basket of your air fryer by oiling it lightly, then set it aside. Line a large rimmed baking sheet, and set it aside.
In a small bowl, place the flour, salt, garlic powder, cumin, paprika and minced onion, and whisk to combine. Place the flour mixture next to the basket. Place the milk and egg in another small bowl, whisk to combine, and then place that mixture beside the flour mixture. Dip each piece of cauliflower into the milk and egg mixture, and allow the excess to drip off before dredging through the flour mixture, coating on all sides. Place the cauliflower on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pieces of cauliflower, and then spray them all with a light coating of oil.
Place as many pieces of cauliflower as will fit in the Air Fryer basket without crowding. Place the basket in the Air Fryer and set the temperature to 350°F. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes or until crispy all over, shaking the basket after about 6 minutes (and as often as you like).
While the cauliflower is cooking, in a small bowl, place the mayonnaise and Sriracha and whisk to combine well. Set the bowl aside.
Remove the basket from the fryer and the cauliflower from the basket. Toss the pieces lightly in the Sriracha mayonnaise or serve with the mayonnaise as a dipping sauce. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower florets and serve.
Alternative oven directions: Prepare the cauliflower as directed, but place the prepared cauliflower florets on a wire rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 425°F for about 20 minutes. For a deeper flavor, toss the cauliflower in the Sriracha mayonnaise after 10 minutes, then return it to the oven to finish baking.