Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets (Paleo, Gluten Free, Nut Free)
These crunchy air fryer chicken nuggets are a guaranteed hit with both kids and adults! Coated with crushed plantain chips, these healthy chicken bites are paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, and irresistible!
Even better? You can meal prep these nuggets and freeze them so you or your kiddos can pop ’em in the air fryer at a moment’s notice!
Plantain chips are the perfect gluten-free panko replacement!
When I was racking my brain for the perfect breading for homemade paleo chicken nuggets, I knew I had to come up with something simple that would add a lot of crunch, but most importantly, it had to taste like the real thing. I know some people have made crunchy coatings using pork rinds, but my kids don’t like porky-tasting nuggets. I also considered using a nut flour for the coating, but it tends to burn in an air fryer and the flavor profile isn’t the same.
But a few days ago, I had an epiphany while munching on some plantain chips: I could crush up a bunch of plantain chips into crumbs and use them like panko or breadcrumbs! We always have bags of plantain chips or plantain strips in the pantry because they’re my husband’s favorite potato chip alternative. Plus, the only ingredients in the brands I buy are plantains, sustainably sourced non-hydrogenated palm oil, and sea salt.
Would this experiment work? Let’s find out!
Here’s what we’ll need to make air fryer chicken nuggets:
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt + water (or if you don’t want to make a brine, you can just use pickle juice): The secret to crispy chicken nuggets that are juicy and well-seasoned is to brine the chicken bites before you air-fry them. If you aren’t using Diamond Crystal kosher salt to make your brine, the conversion for other salts is as follows: 1 part Diamond Crystal kosher salt = 1 part Maldon sea salt = ¾ part Morton kosher salt = ¾ part fleur de sel = ½ part table salt. Got leftover pickle juice? Then you can skip mixing salt and water and use pickle juice in place of a homemade brine!
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast: You know I love thighs, but for this recipe, I actually prefer boneless, skinless breasts. The nuggets won’t be dry if you brine the meat first!
- Plantain chips or strips: This is the secret to crispy air fryer chicken nuggets that also happen to be paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, and nut-free! I buy Artisan Tropic or Inka brands.
- Eggs: The eggs help the coating adhere to the chicken. Unfortunately, I’m not sure of a good replacement if you have an egg allergy. If you come up with one, leave it in the comments below!
- Cassava flour: This flour gets whisked in with the eggs and spices to thicken the batter and coat the chicken pieces properly. Tapioca and arrowroot powder also work in a pinch.
- Spices: Onion powder, garlic powder, and smoked paprika add the familiar flavor of traditional chicken nuggets so your kids won’t complain!
- Avocado oil spray: I spritz avocado oil on the nuggets to ensure a crispy end product.
What’s the best air fryer?
These nuggets turn out the best when you cook them in a drawer-type air fryer that comes with a basket. Right now, my favorite brand of this type of air fryer is the Instant Pot Vortex Plus Basket Air Fryer, which is also rated the best air fryer by the smarties at Cook’s Illustrated. I also tested a few batches in my Breville Smart Oven Air, which is a counter top oven with the air fryer function, but the batches I cooked in my Instant Pot Vortex Plus (and even my old drawer-type Philips Air Fryer) came out crispier.
No air fryer?
Unfortunately, you won’t get super crispy chicken nuggets when you bake these babies in the oven. Even convection mode—which mimics the fan-like action of an air fryer—doesn’t produce nuggets that are quite as crispy. If you still insist on baking the nuggets in the oven, you can arrange the nuggets on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and cook them at 425°F for 10 to 13 minutes or until they’re cooked through.
Can you freeze these chicken nuggets?
Yes! You can definitely make a double batch and freeze them for future meals. I freeze the uncooked nuggets on a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet for about 4 hours or until they solidify. Then, I transfer the frozen nuggets to a sealed container or freezer bag and store them in the freezer for up to 4 months.
You can cook the chicken nuggets straight from the freezer—just air-fry them at 400°F for about 14 to 16 minutes or until the outside is crispy and the center is fully cooked.
What are good dipping sauces?
These chicken nuggets taste great on their own, but some great dipping sauces include paleo ketchup (there are lots of brands at the market these days)…
…Sriracha Mayonnaise (check out my recipe on page 45 of our first cookbook)…
and honey mustard sauce.
If you want to make a paleo-friendly honey mustard sauce, simply mix together ¼ cup Dijon-style mustard + 1 tablespoon honey.
How to make gluten-free and nut-free chicken nuggets
Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Set it aside.
Make the brine for the chicken by pouring the water in a large bowl and mixing in ¼ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt until it dissolves.
Got leftover pickle juice? You can use that in place of the saltwater brine!
Cut the breasts into uniform bite-size pieces, until you have about 28 pieces total.
Use a meat pounder to smush each piece until they’re about ½-inch thick. That way, they’ll air-fry evenly. (This is my favorite meat pounder.)
Add the chicken to the prepared brine. Cover and store the chicken in the fridge for 15 minutes. (Don’t soak the chicken in the brine for too long or it’ll get too salty!) If you’re using pickle juice, marinate the chicken in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour and up to 8 hours.
Now, make the plantain crumb coating! Dump the plantain chips into a food processor and process until a coarse powder is formed.
Pour half the plantain crumbs into a shallow bowl. If you put them all in the shallow bowl, they’ll clump up as you coat the chicken.
Time to mix the batter! In another shallow dish, add the eggs, cassava flour, spices, and salt.
Whisk together until a sticky paste forms.
Take the chicken pieces out of the brine and pat ’em dry with paper towels.
In batches, dip the chicken into the egg mixture, shaking off any excess.
Coat the chicken with the plantain chip crumbs, gently patting the crumbs all over.
Pro tip: to keep your hands relatively clean, use one hand to grab the chicken from the batter and use your other hand to pat on the plantain chips.
Set the nuggets on the prepared wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet.
Add more plantain chip crumbs to the dish when it runs low.
Continue coating the chicken pieces until finished.
Now, air fry the chicken nuggets in batches.
Lightly spray the bottom of the air fryer with avocado oil spray…
…and place the chicken nuggets in a single layer. Don’t pile them on top of each other or the nuggets won’t get crispy!
Spray the tops of the nuggets lightly with avocado oil.
Air-fry at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until the outsides are golden brown and the center of each nugget is fully cooked.
If you’re cooking the nuggets from frozen, air-fry for 14 to 16 minutes.
Repeat the steps above until you’re finished air-frying all your chicken nuggets.
Serve with dipping sauces and enjoy!
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2021).
PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets (Paleo, Gluten Free, Grain Free, Nut Free)
Air Fryer Chicken Nuggets
- 3 cups cold water or use 2 cups of pickle juice in place of salt brine
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 9 ounces plantain chips or strips
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons cassava flour or tapioca or arrowroot powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- avocado oil spray
Honey Mustard Sauce
- ¼ cup Dijon-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
- Make the brine for the chicken by pouring the water in a large bowl and mix in ¼ cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt until it dissolves. Alternatively, you can pour 2 cups of pickle juice in a bowl to use as the salt water brine.
- Cut the breasts into bite-sized pieces until you have about 28 uniform pieces total. Use a meat pounder to smush each piece until they’re about ½-inch thick.
- Add the chicken to the prepared brine and cover and store in the fridge for only 15 minutes. If you’re using pickle juice, marinate the chicken in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour and up to 8 hours.
- Plop the plantain chips in a food processor and process until a coarse powder is formed. You should end up with 2 cups of plantain crumbs.
- Transfer half of the crumbs to a shallow bowl. (If you put all the crumbs in the shallow bowl, they will clump up as you coat the chicken.)
- In another shallow dish, add the eggs, cassava flour, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Whisk together until a sticky paste forms.
- Take the chicken out of the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- In batches, dip the chicken in the egg mixture, shaking off any excess. Coat the chicken with the plantain chip crumbs, gently patting them. Set the nuggets on the prepared wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet.
- Add more plantain chip crumbs to the dish when it runs low. Continue coating the chicken pieces until finished.
- Now, air fry the chicken nuggets in batches. Lightly spray the bottom of the air fryer with avocado oil spray and place the chicken nuggets in a single layer. Spray the tops of the nuggets with avocado oil.
- Air fry at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until the outside is golden brown and the center is fully cooked. If the nuggets are frozen, air fry for 14 to 16 minutes. Repeat until finished.
Honey Mustard Sauce
- If desired, make honey mustard sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the dijon-style mustard and honey until uniform. Serve the nuggets with the sauce.
- If you are freezing the nuggets, after you are finished with step 10, place the uncooked nuggets on the wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet in a freezer for 4 hour or until solid. Then, transfer the frozen nuggets to a sealed container or freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 4 months.
- The frozen nuggets can be cooked directly from the freezer. Air fry at 400°F for 14 to 16 minutes or until cooked through and crispy on the outside.
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