A staple in Taiwanese night markets and boba cafes, these crispy, juicy little nuggets of chicken are loaded with flavour and oh-so poppable. Typically deep-fried, we gave this recipe the air fryer treatment for a slightly healthier twist that’s just as delicious as the original. The key to the Taiwanese popcorn chicken’s uniquely addictive taste is a generous sprinkle of five-spice powder and white pepper, two essential ingredients for the recipe. Although it’s not absolutely necessary to include the Sichuan peppercorns, they provide a playful numbing tingle that really adds to the overall mouthfeel. And while we love using tapioca starch to achieve the deeply satisfying crunch for this recipe, you can sub in corn starch in a pinch.
Note: The less common Chinese ingredients used in this dish (Shaoxing wine, five-spice powder, white pepper, Sichuan peppercorns) can be found at Asian grocery stores and some big-box supermarkets.
For the chicken marinade
For the crispy coating
To cook and serve
In a medium-sized bowl, toss chicken pieces with all marinade ingredients, ensuring chicken is coated thoroughly. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
While chicken marinates, combine all coating ingredients in a large bowl.
With wet hands, dredge marinated chicken pieces with coating mixture, squeezing to ensure the coating sticks to the chicken.
Arrange chicken pieces in air fryer basket in an even layer and slightly spaced apart. Spray generously with cooking spray. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to work in batches.
Set air fryer to 400°F and cook chicken for 6 minutes. Remove basket from air fryer, toss chicken, ensuring all are flipped over. If any surfaces of chicken remain white and powdery, spray with additional cooking spray. Return to air fryer to cook at 400°F for an additional 6 minutes. Remove basket from air fryer, add in basil leaves, spray with additional cooking spray and toss with chicken. Cook for 1 additional minute at 400°F.
Remove basket from air fryer and serve, sprinkling with green onions if using.