These tasty little bites of Taiwanese popcorn chicken are packed with so much flavour from aromatic spices like five spice, white pepper and Sichuan peppercorns. Then they're tossed with air fried Thai basil and served with a Thai basil dipping sauce! Because when it comes to anything crushable like popcorn chicken, a dip on the side is always a good idea. So if you're looking for a healthier (and easy) air fryer popcorn chicken recipe, try this version at home. You can also easily make this gluten-free too!
First, here's a little backstory on how this Taiwanese popcorn chicken recipe came to be. I first tried Taiwanese popcorn chicken at a restaurant in New York City called Double Chicken Please. This place makes incredible food and cocktails, in fact, they're known for their handcrafted cocktails. They were just ranked #2 for the best bars in North America! Getting to visit this spot was something my husband and I were SO excited about when we went to NYC this past summer. And it did not disappoint. While we were waiting for our cocktails, we tried their popcorn chicken served with Thai basil aioli. It was love at first bite. And since we can't just hop on a plane and head to NYC (or Taiwan) at any given moment, we had to try and recreate this at home. I'm not going to claim that it is as good as theirs (duh), but it is a solid, delicious option.
I chose to make this Taiwanese popcorn chicken a little lighter and used my air fryer instead. But you can of course deep fry them as well, I've tried both versions.
If you want the classic, fried version, go for it. But if you want something a little lighter using way less oil, try this air fryer popcorn chicken version.
If you aren't familiar with Taiwanese popcorn chicken, here's a little more info about it.
Here's everything you'll need to make this air fryer Taiwanese popcorn chicken and Thai basil dip. Please see notes for more info and substitutions.
Making this delicious Taiwanese fried chicken is relatively easy. You just need a bit of prep time to marinate the chicken. Other than that, everything can be done in about 30 minutes, start to finish.
First up, marinate the chicken.
Place the chicken on a cutting board and chop into bite sized pieces and transfer into a large bowl.
To the bowl with the chicken, add the tamari, Chinese five spice, Shaoxing wine, sugar, white pepper and salt. Mix to combine, seal and refrigerate overnight, or for at least two hours.
Next up, make the coating mixture that will go on the Taiwanese popcorn chicken immediately after air frying.
In a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast the Sichuan peppercorns until fragrant, about two to three minutes, stirring often to avoid burning. Transfer to a coffee grinder (or mortar and pestle) and pulse to grind.
Mix the peppercorns with 1/2 tsp white pepper and 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice and set aside.
If you'll be making the Thai basil dip, you can prepare that next.
Spoon the mayonnaise, lime juice, garlic clove and about half of the Thai basil leaves into a food processor (or the standing cup for an immersion blender). Process until just blended and combined.
Now it's time to air fry!
When ready to cook, pour the starch into a large bowl along with all other coating ingredients from the garlic powder to the salt.
Preheat the air fryer to 400ºF.
Remove a few chicken pieces from the marinade and transfer to the bowl with coating and toss well, being sure to coat on all sides. Tap off any excess and place in the basket of the air fryer. Arrange chicken pieces in the air fryer in a single layer, do not overlap. Work in batches if needed.
Spray generously with avocado oil and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, removing halfway through and spraying with more oil as needed on any floury pieces of chicken. There is no need to flip the pieces.
Once all the chicken is done, reduce the temperature to 390ºF and add the remaining Thai basil leaves to the air fryer and spray with oil. Bake for one to two minutes, until crispy.
Immediately toss the hot popcorn chicken in the peppercorn/five spice mixture and then add the basil leaves and lightly toss.
Serve with Thai basil dip and enjoy!
If you want to fry popcorn chicken, it's pretty much the exact same in terms of preparation.
Marinate the chicken and dip into the flour mixture the same.
Heat a wok (I like to fry in a wok, but another medium sized pot works too) over medium heat and fill with enough oil to cover. Heat the oil to 350ºF.
Working in batches, fry the chicken pieces in the oil, until golden brown and crispy, about five to seven minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to remove and set aside on a paper towel lined plate.
Once finished, immediately toss them in the peppercorn mixture.
Fry the basil leaves until crisp, about one to two minutes total. Toss them with the chicken and enjoy!
I share these products to show you what I choose to use in my kitchen as staple ingredients I use daily (or weekly). So if you opened up my fridge (or pantry), here's what you'll find!
I exclusively use Diamond Crystal kosher salt for all of my recipes. I prefer the texture, taste and consistency of this brand and highly recommend it for everyday cooking.
Avocado Oil Spray:
I love using my air fryer, here are some more recipes to keep you inspired!
Ready to make this? Let's get to it!
If you make this air fryer Taiwanese popcorn chicken please share with me, by tagging me on Instagram or leave a comment and/or review below. I truly love seeing and hearing form you!
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This flavourful Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken is made in the air fryer for a quick and easy appetizer. Serve it with a Thai basil dip on the side and enjoy!