Whenever my husband and I make plans that involve packing a picnic, he always requests Cold Fried Chicken, which is just fried chicken with a couple of special ingredients to keep the breading crispy when refrigerated, making it a perfect make-ahead dish for picnics. I've always used this Food & Wine recipe, which is fantastic, but I really hate dealing with used frying oil. So, when I finally bought an air fryer, one of the first things I tested out was Cold Fried Chicken. While the air-fried breading doesn't stay quite as crispy as its deep-fried counterpart, the results are still delicious, and the cleanup is a breeze (which totally tips the scales for me).
In addition to using an air fryer instead of deep frying, I've also adapted the Food & Wine recipe to use my Cajun Spice Blend because (1) we like the little bit of kick and (2) it streamlines the prep process. (If you don't want the spice, my Good on Everything Rub is a great option as well with all the flavor and none of the kick.) In addition, I've opted for all boneless breast meat, which I cut into bite-sized pieces. I've got nothing against dark meat, mind you. I just find that using all breast meat here means the individual bites cook up more consistently, and you end up with fun little bite-sized nuggets perfect for a potluck picnic.
Finally, keep in mind that this recipe requires a couple of days because of the long marinating time as well as the time needed to chill the final product before packing it up for your picnic. If I'm attending a Hollywood Bowl show on Saturday night, I will start marinating the chicken by Friday morning at the latest.
Ok, let's get "frying," shall we?
Cold "Fried" Chicken Bites (in an Air Fryer!)
4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 tablespoons Cajun Spice Blend, divided
1 quart buttermilk
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white rice flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Avocado or Vegetable Oil cooking spray (Note: Do not use olive oil, as its smoke point is too low and will burn.)
Place chicken pieces in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Cajun Spice Blend and mix to coat the chicken with the spice blend. Add the buttermilk and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (up to 24 hours).
In medium bowl, combine the flour with the remaining 4 tablespoons Cajun Spice Blend. Transfer half of spiced flour to another medium mixing bowl and set one of the bowls aside. Add to the other bowl the rice flour and cornstarch and whisk to combine.
Drain the chicken but keep the buttermilk. Toss the chicken in the spiced flour, placing the coated pieces on a wire rack placed on a baking sheet. Refrigerate, uncovered, for about an hour.
Preheat air fryer to 350 F and spray tray/basket with cooking spray. Dip chicken pieces in reserved buttermilk and then dredge in the flour/rice flour/cornstarch mixture. Arrange on air fryer tray/basket so that pieces do not touch, and spray the surface of the pieces with cooking spray. (Note: You'll probably need to do do this in 2-3 batches, depending on the size of your air fryer.)
Cook for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken pieces over (and rotate the trays, if you have more than one in your air fryer) and spray the chicken with cooking spray again. Cook for another 15 minutes, until the breading is crispy and golden brown.
Transfer cooked chicken to a clean wire rack placed over a baking sheet and allow to cool before placing in the refrigerator to chill completely before packing it up for your picnic.
Serve cold with your favorite hot sauce and enjoy!