Ultra Crispy Air-Fried Chicken

Kate Itrich-Williams
Kate Itrich-Williams
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.
Serves
4
Prep Time
12:30
Cook Time
00:50
Ultra Crispy Air-Fried Chicken
5 (1)
399
Ingredients
1 Tbsp
sweet paprika
1.5 tsp
garlic powder
¾ tsp
dry mustard powder
¾ tsp
ground ginger
¾ tsp
black pepper
¾ tsp
white pepper
½ tsp
MSG
½ tsp
dried thyme
½ tsp
dried basil
¼ tsp
dried oregano
4
bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (700 to 900g), any excess skin or fat trimmed off and discarded
Kosher salt
150 g
plain kettle-cooked potato chips
45 g
Fritos
1 cup
low-fat buttermilk
Steps

1. Make the Spice Blend

In a large bowl, whisk together the paprika, garlic powder, mustard powder, ground ginger, black pepper, white pepper, MSG, thyme, basil, and oregano until evenly combined. Measure out 1 ½ teaspoons of the spice blend and transfer to a small bowl; set aside for the breading mix.
Make the Spice Blend

2. Season the Chicken

Weigh the chicken thighs in grams; they should weigh about 700 to 900 grams in total. Weigh out 1.5% kosher salt by weight; it should be around 10 to 15 grams. Add the salt to the large bowl of spice blend and mix well. Add the chicken and toss to coat with the spice mixture. It will be very generously coated.
Season the Chicken

3. Dry Brine the Chicken

Place the chicken skin-side up on a small wire rack set in a small rimmed sheet pan. Transfer to the fridge, uncovered, and let chill for 12 to 24 hours.
Dry Brine the Chicken

4. Preheat the Oven

Rack
The next day, turn on the oven to cook the chicken using dry sous vide.
Sous Vide Mode: On
Steam: Off
Temp: 180°F
Heat: Rear

5. Dry Sous Vide the Chicken

Rack
Place the chicken on a sheet pan, skin-side up, and insert the probe into the largest thigh, avoiding the bone. Transfer to the oven, attach the probe, and cook until the probe hits its target temperature, 35 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the probe.
Dry Sous Vide the Chicken
Sous Vide Mode: On
Steam: Off
Temp: 180°F
Heat: Rear
170°F Probe Target

6. Make the Breading Mixture

While the chicken cooks, prepare the breading mixture. Combine the potato chips and Fritos in a food processor. Pulse until the chips have formed small crumbs about 2mm in size. Transfer to a shallow bowl and stir in the reserved 1 ½ teaspoons spice mix. Pour the buttermilk into a second shallow bowl.
Make the Breading Mixture

7. Adjust the Oven for Air Frying and Prepare Rack

Rack
Generously spray a 12- by 16-inch (42 by 30.5cm) wire cooling rack with nonstick oil spray.
Sous Vide Mode: Off
Steam: Off
Temp: 425°F
Heat: Rear

8. Bread the Chicken

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. One piece at a time, dip in the buttermilk, turn to coat, then transfer to the bowl with the breading mix. Pat the mix on both sides of the chicken, then tap off any excess. Transfer to the greased wire rack, skin-side up. Repeat with the remaining thighs.
Bread the Chicken

9. Air Fry

Rack
Transfer the wire rack with the chicken to the fourth oven rack position and place a clean sheet pan on the second oven rack to catch drips. Air fry until the chicken is crisp and browned, 12 to 15 minutes.
Air Fry
Sous Vide Mode: Off
Steam: Off
Temp: 425°F
Heat: Rear
00:12 Timer

10. Serve

Let the chicken cool on the wire rack for a few minutes then serve hot.
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