This popcorn chicken is perfect as a snack, as a side dish, or even as the main meat accompaniment to an entree! Made with wholesome ingredients, this recipe is clean eat approved!
We begin our popcorn chicken journey by pouring our buttermilk (which, if you don’t have any on hand like I did, you can make by adding and mixing lemon and/or lime juice to whole milk and allowing it to curdle) into a bowl.
Next we add in our raw, cubed chicken breast…
And submerge all pieces. Once that’s done, we’re going to cover it and place it in the refrigerator overnight so that the buttermilk can penetrate and tenderize the chicken. Though and overnight marinate is ideal, you could get by with allowing it to marinate for at least an hour if you’re short on time.
Next, we’re going to gather the ingredients for the breading. I’m using stone ground 100% whole wheat pastry flour, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, baking powder, and onion powder.
The spices can be tweaked to your liking, however the baking powder is honestly something you cannot omit in this recipe if you want the chicken to have that bubbly fried crust exterior.
Though it’s not technically a clean ingredient, the minute amount we’re using will not “break the clean eat bank”. And yes, I know it’s a bit of a cheat but I haven’t yet been able to find anything that really serves as an appropriate substitute for this recipe. The few attempts I’ve tried using different amounts of baking soda has resulted in a slightly chemical taste in the final product because of its reaction with the buttermilk, so if you opt to try this substitution, proceed with caution.
We’ll add in all the spices to the flour and mix to ensure it’s fully incorporated. Once that’s done, we’re going to add the chicken piece by piece and roll it through to ensure that it’s evenly coated. I highly recommend doing it one by one and not just dumping a handful of chicken pieces in because you’ll end up with a buttermilk and flour paste and poorly coated pieces of chicken 👎
Another method is to place the flour mixture into a container with a tightly sealing lid, or even a ziplock bag, and add the chicken a few pieces at a time and shake until all pieces are evenly coated.
Place the evenly coated pieces onto a plate and allow it to sit untouched for 5 minutes. If you see the pieces are absorbing all the flour and look slightly wet, simply roll the pieces through the flour once more and allow to rest 2 more minutes. This rest period is what will allow the breading to fully stick to the chicken which will keep it from flaking off or falling off when we fry it.
Airfryer: I like to use my air-fryer because it uses far less oil and the smell of fried foods are mitigated. I pre-heat my fryer to 350F then brush the bottom of the basket with light olive oil before I place a small batch of the chicken into the basket in an even layer and allow it to cook for a few minutes. (Do you see in the above image how after just a few minutes the pieces are already developing that bubbly fried chicken crust??)
Deep fried on the stovetop: If you’re frying the traditional way, you want to use just enough oil to allow the chicken to be submerged and you want the oil to be hot enough (but not smoking) so that when you drop a piece of chicken in it sizzles and begins to bubble and fry immediately. Fry until the pieces are golden brown and drain any excess oil off by placing the pieces on a paper towel. For a shallow fry, use about an inch of oil and turn the pieces over once the undersides are golden brown to allow the topside to get an even cook/browning.
After a few minutes I checked on them and gave the basket a gentle shake. Any piece that had a floury exterior was given a light spritz or brush with a touch of light olive oil before I set them back to “fry” a bit longer until they got golden brown.
The above image was taken at the halfway point of browning. Once they were fully golden brown on all sides I removed them from the fry basket and set them on a plate with a paper towel to rest and cool a bit before devouring them.
Thanks to the buttermilk marinade, the bite-sized chicken will be juicy and tender. The spices in the breading ensured that each bite was flavorful, and the fry resulted in a perfectly crunchy exterior! Had I opted to cut the chicken into strips instead of cubing it, the end product would have been amazing chicken tenders that adults and kids alike can enjoy!
That’s it for this recipe, it’s wholesome and delicious and perfect for any occasion.
Enjoy them by themselves or you can serve it with mashed potatoes or turn it into our oh-so-satisfying Clean Eat Copy-Cat KFC Famous Bowl or enjoy them in a Clean Eat Chicken Wrap that’s made using our delicious 100% Whole Wheat Tortillas that are soft, fluffy and made from scratch!
However you choose to enjoy these, I guarantee you’ll love them as much as we do!
Delicious and Healthy Popcorn Chicken
- 1½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cubed)
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 1½ cup stone ground whole wheat pastry flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp Himalayan salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- extra light olive oil (for brushing, spritzing, or frying)
- Place the buttermilk into a bowl. If you don't have buttermilk on hand, you can make your own (like I did) by using 1½ cups of whole milk with the juice of a whole lime and half a lemon added to it. Stir the milk and set it aside to allow it to thicken for a few minutes.
- Add the (raw) cubed chicken breast pieces into the buttermilk and stir to coat all pieces. Cover the bowl and allow to marinate in the refrigerator a minimum of one hour. (An overnight marinade is best as the the acid in the buttermilk helps to tenderize the chicken which ensures a juicy and tender end product.)
Coating the pieces:
- In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, cayenne, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and dried oregano and mix them all together.
- Pick each piece of chicken out of the buttermilk marinade and roll it into the flour mixture to evenly coat. Allow each piece to rest for five to ten minutes before frying. If the pieces absorb all the flour and appear pasty, simply roll it through the flour one more time (being sure to dust off the excess). Discard the leftover buttermilk once all chicken pieces are removed and coated.
Frying in oil on the stove-top:
- Add enough oil to a pot or pan to cover the chicken pieces when submerged. Heat the oil until a test piece bubbles and fries the moment you drop it in.
- Deep fry the chicken in small batches on medium heat until each piece is golden brown in color. Remove and set the pieces on layered kitchen paper towels to drain off any excess oil and cool before serving.
Frying in an air-fryer:
- Pre-heat your air-fryer to 350°F.
- Once pre-heated, spritz the inside of the basket with a light mist of oil (or use a heat-resistant pastry brush to coat the basket with oil) before placing a small batch of chicken pieces into the basket in a single layer, making sure that none of the pieces are touching.
- Allow to cook, for a few minutes until the tops begin to form a crispy crust. Brush or spritz the tops lightly with oil and continue cooking. checking on them intermittently until they begin to develop a golden brown color.
- Once all pieces are evenly browned, remove and set the pieces on layered kitchen paper towels to cool before serving.
Serving and storing:
- Serve popcorn chicken as a snack, an appetizer or as a meat side with potatoes or even rolled up into a whole wheat tortilla as a wrap! Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. For those with an air-fryer, you can pop leftovers into a pre-heated air-fryer for a few minutes to warm and crisp up again. A toaster oven also works great for reheating!
- When using the air-fryer some pieces may still have flour showing. If you like, you can either spritz or brush some oil onto them and cook them a little longer or leave them as is.