Ultra Crispy Air-Fried Chicken
April 6, 2023
Let’s face it. Air-fried chicken is never going to be quite as cracklingly crisp as true deep-fried chicken. But with the right technique and equipment, you can get pretty close — perfectly juicy and flavor-packed chicken with a crispy-crunchy coating and no pot of hot oil to clean up.
The biggest enemy for air-fried chicken is moisture. To combat that, this recipe dry-brines well-trimmed chicken thighs overnight in the fridge without covering. This step not only flavors the chicken, but it also helps to dry off surface moisture from the skin. When it comes time to cook, we use a two-stage process in the Anova Precision Oven. First, we cook the chicken using dry sous vide mode until it reaches 170°F (77°C). This temperature is low enough to retain juiciness but high enough to soften the dark meat’s connective tissue. Cooking sous vide with no steam also keeps the meat from turning soggy. The second air-fry cook is where the crisp comes in. This is done directly on a wire cooling rack to ensure the hot air is able to reach every nook and cranny of the chicken.
For the best crisp coating, it’s also helpful to start with a breading mixture that is already, well, fried and crisp. Traditional fried chicken breadings made from flour simply don’t crisp in an oven as they do in a fryer. After testing an array of various brands and styles of crispy fried snacks, we landed on a mixture of kettle-cooked potato chips and Fritos in a ratio of about 3 parts potato chip to 1 part Frito. This gave us a relatively neutral flavor profile with maximum crunch. (You can substitute other chips if you’d like, but know that thinner potato chips tend to turn greasy when they are turned into crumbs.) To get the chips to stick, we give the chicken a quick dip in buttermilk after being cooked sous vide.
To flavor the chicken, we took inspiration from Kentucky Fried Chicken’s spice blend, with a heavy hand of paprika and both black and white pepper. Our spice blend gets added to both the dry brine and the breading to ensure its flavor is distributed evenly. A touch of MSG really enhances the umami notes of the seasoning blend, but if you prefer not to use it, you can leave it out.
Note: Since chicken thighs vary dramatically in size, we’ve called for salt as a percentage of the weight of the chicken. You will need a digital kitchen scale that measures grams in order to best measure the salt.