These Air Fryer chicken nuggets really are super crispy but made with almost no oil and in just minutes. If you're wondering how to use this new fun appliance, they're a great place to start! Of course, they can also be baked in the oven or deep-fried in oil.
Should you get an Air Fryer?
The bottom line is this: If you can afford the price of an Air Fryer and you have space in your life to store one, yes. You should buy one. I only have experience with one particular brand (which I'll explain as fully as I can below), but I know there are many for sale these days. Please feel free to share your personal experiences in the comments below!
Now for the back story: With January resolutions in mind, I asked on Facebook what you thought about Air Fryers: did you have one, and would you like to see recipes designed for it? Although a few of you said no thanks (which is why there are conventional oven baking directions below!), many, many of you said a resounding yes!
Whether you got an Air Fryer for the recent holidays, or you're just considering buying one, I went ahead and took the plunge. It's research, right? Well, first I made sure I could find a place in my growing collection of electric kitchen appliances to store an Air Fryer. Then, I bought the biggest one they had because I had read that they can be frustratingly small.
I have the As Seen on TV version (I am a SUCKER for As Seen On TV), which is the Power Air Fryer XL 5.3 Quart. That's an affiliate link for Amazon.com, but of course feel free to shop around.
I would have preferred to buy mine at Bed Bath & Beyond since I could have used a 20% off coupon and their return policy is second-to-none, but they didn't have any in stock. Frankly, I was fairly certain this experiment would be a failed one and I'd be bringing my “fryer” back within a week.
Well, color me surprised. ? I absolutely love this thing. So far, aside from many, many batches of today's Air Fryer chicken nuggets, I've made a few different kinds of chicken (all have turned out great), incredibly crispy French fries, Air Fryer fried wontons, and even some yeast-raised donuts. Everything has turned out awesome. How about some Air Fryer Buffalo Cauliflower Bites? Don't mind if I do!
Not only has the food been great, but the appliance heats up very quickly (I haven't found it necessary to “preheat” it at all) and the clean-up is simple. Be sure not to use an aerosol oil spray, as that has additives that can damage the nonstick coating of the fry basket. My Air Fryer came with a non-aerosol oil mister, but it's not so easy to use. I'm not buying another sprayer, though. They're too expensive and have too many issues.
How does it compare to baking?
These chicken nuggets have a much thicker, more satisfying crunch than anything that is baked in the oven (like these coconut chicken fingers my family adores) could possibly have. When you bake them in the oven, the breadcrumb coating may get browned, but the crust doesn't form in the same way.
I'm actually quite a big fan of deep-fried foods, as when cooked in the proper oil at the proper temperature, the food absorbs very little oil. But there's no way around at least some of the mess of the whole procedure of deep frying, and the lingering smell in the kitchen isn't pleasant. I'll have to make my KFC Chicken and report back about how it compares to the deep fry.
If I had known that air fryers would become so popular and widespread, I would have tested a lot of the recipes in Gluten Free Small Bites in the air fryer and provided notes in the cookbook. I'm thinking about trying the hush puppies or the coconut shrimp from Small Bites in the air fryer. I'll have to let you know how they turn out, but I'm pretty optimistic.
Some semi-pro tips for using the Air Fryer
I'm far from an Air Fryer expert (yet!), and there are even some recipe developers who have written entire cookbooks on the subject of this crazy appliance already. But I've done a lot of reading and a ton of testing in the last couple weeks, and here's what I know so far:
- If you're converting an oven-baked recipe to the Air Fryer, keep in mind that air frying is more efficient than oven-baking. As a rule of thumb, try reducing the oven temperature by 25°F and reducing the cooking time by about 20%. This is just a general guideline, though!
- Air frying is really (of course) not actually just like deep-frying. It's more like extremely efficient high-powered convection oven baking. Air is circulated all around the food by a high-powered fan. So be sure that your breading is sticking to the food quite well, or it might get separated during cooking.
- As I've mentioned already, stay away from an aerosol-based oil spray. It can damage the nonstick coating on the fryer basket. Also, handwash the basket. It cleans up very easily, and whether your manufacturer says it's dishwasher safe or not, I'd wash by hand.
- I really don't care for the recipes that the Air Fryer people themselves provide with the appliance and on the Internet. When in doubt, trust your favorite food blogger over the manufacturer in this case (and in many cases!). We're generally a pretty hardworking bunch, and we're operating in real-world circumstances, just like you.
Watch this short (90 second) video to see how it's done!
Just push play ▶ below and watch how to prepare the chicken nuggets and then how to make them quickly and easily in the Air Fryer.
Ingredients and substitutions
Egg-free: Since there is only one egg in this recipe, I think it would work quite well to substitute it with a “chia egg” (1 tablespoon ground chia seeds + 1 tablespoon lukewarm water, mixed and allowed to gel). For a proper coating to which the breadcrumbs will adhere quite well, though, the question is more difficult. Maybe “chia eggs”? If you're egg-free and have ideas, please share in the comments!
Dairy-free: As long as that tablespoon of milk is dairy-free, these nuggets are naturally dairy free.
Corn-free: Just replace the cornstarch for dredging with arrowroot, my gum-free gluten free flour blend or sweet white rice flour.
Herbs: Use whatever dried herbs you like. I like herbs de Provence because it's a nice shortcut to a lot of flavor and the nuggets remind me of chicken and dumplings or pot pie that way.
Nutritional yeast: Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of yeast, and has a mildly cheesy flavor. It used to be relatively hard to find, but now that Trader Joe's sells their own brand of the stuff, I think it's made it to the mainstream. If you'd prefer to eliminate it and can have dairy, try replacing it with an equal amount by volume of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Air Fryer-free: See the recipe below for oven-baking directions!
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
1 egg (50 g, weighed out of shell)
1 tablespoon milk (any kind)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (20 g) nutritional yeast
3/4 pound (12 ounces) skinless boneless chicken breasts, minced (or ground chicken)
1/2 cup (80 g) Panko-style gluten free breadcrumbs, plus about 1 1/2 cups more, for dredging
1 to 1 1/2 cups cornstarch, for dredging
2 eggs (any size) (beaten with water), for dredging
Avocado or sunflower oil, for spraying or brushing (non-aerosol can if spraying)
Sriracha mayonnaise, for dipping (optional)
In a large bowl, place the egg, milk, herbs, salt, and nutritional yeast, and beat to combine well. Add the minced or ground chicken, and then the breadcrumbs, mixing to combine after each addition. The mixture should be sticky and should hold together when scooped. If you’ve used ground chicken instead of minced chicken, you may need a bit more breadcrumbs to help the mixture hold together.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside. Place the cornstarch in one bowl, the eggs beaten with water in another, and the remaining 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs in another. Set them side by side, next to the prepared baking sheet. Divide the chicken mixture into portions about 1 1/2 tablespoons each (a #50 ice cream scoop is ideal for this purpose) and roll each into a round then press into a flat disk between the wet palms of your hands. Dredge each portion through the cornstarch, coating on all sides, through the egg wash (allow excess to drip off) and then through the breadcrumbs to coat on all sides. Press the breadcrumbs onto the nuggets so they adhere, and place each nugget on the prepared baking sheet.
Place as many nuggets as will fit comfortably in the basket of your Air Fryer in a single layer, without crowding. Spray or brush the tops of the nuggets lightly with the oil, and place in the Air Fryer. Fry at 370°F for about 6 minutes. Remove the basket carefully from the fryer and, using heat-safe tongs, flip each of the nuggets over. Return to the fryer and finish frying until crispy brown all over and cooked through (another 6 to 8 minutes). Serve immediately with the optional sriracha mayonnaise.
Alternate Oven-Baking Directions: Prepare the chicken nuggets in the same manner, but place them on a wire rack above the lined baking sheet. Spray generously with oil, and bake in a 400°F oven for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip each of the nuggets over and spray again with oil. Return to the oven and continue to bake until lightly golden brown and cooked through (about another 10 to 12 minutes).