Nothing screams comfort food like fried chicken. Fried chicken’s popularity has spanned the globe, even taking over Latin America. For the past several decades, there has been a huge boom in fried chicken restaurant chains in South and Central America thanks to the popular Latin fried chicken spot Pollo Campero. I grew up eating it after it opened in America (my typical order including rice and beans, yuca fries, and tortillas).
Now there are countless copycat recipes for Pollo Campero’s fried chicken. These recipes often use a blend of citrus and spices to mimic the popular food chain’s version.
The premise for my own copycat recipe is the same as American Southern fried chicken but has a different flavor and spice profile: My recipe uses lime juice instead of buttermilk for the brine and incorporates herbs and spices like oregano, cayenne, sazón, and adobo. And we’ve tweaked the cooking method: Rather than deep-fried chicken, an air fryer is used to make the chicken skin perfectly crisp and crunchy.
It’s perfect for weeknight dinner, a picnic, or trying a new way to cook a classic.
Origins of Central American Fried Chicken
This tropical, Latin spiced chicken supposedly originated in Guatemala in the 1970s and became popularized by the Latin fried chicken chain Pollo Campero. Pollo Campero now has multiple locations around the United States as well.
The Differences Between Air Frying and Deep Frying
So how does an air fryer create that crispy crunch? An air fryer works like a small convection oven that produces the effect of frying—without excessive oil. Air fryers have become a popular kitchen appliance of choice for those looking to scale back on oil.
Technically, an air fryer (despite its name) does not fry. It is actually a small convection oven that uses circulated hot air from a fan to create a crispy texture via the Maillard reaction (what makes food brown and crispy as a product of heating sugar and proteins).
Not sure where the name originated, but an air fryer has a much nicer and tighter ring to it than a “mini-convection oven.”
Why We Brine Chicken (Even When Air Frying)
This brine is a combination of fresh lime juice, fresh garlic, and Latin spices like sazón (a blend of cumin, coriander, garlic powder, achiote, salt, pepper, and oregano). Lime juice acts like an acid—it breaks down chicken fibers and helps to absorb the flavor from the citrus and spices and retain moisture.
While some lime marinades for chicken say you can marinate for up to 12 hours, I do not recommend marinating for more than two hours; otherwise, the acid from the lime will make the chicken too tough. An accidental 4-hour marinade yielded a chewier, tougher (yet still delicious) air fried chicken.
Go for Skin-On, Bone-In Chicken
For the crispiest and juiciest air fried chicken, do yourself a favor and go for skin-on, bone-in chicken. The skin will give the marinade and the coating a better surface to adhere to. Shaking off excess marinade prior to coating will make for better results (the more dry the chicken skin, the better it will crisp when cooked).
Another thing to keep in mind in order to achieve crispy skin in the air fryer is to make sure that the chicken skin is flat once you dredge it and are ready to put it in the air fryer. You can also use kitchen scissors to cut off any excess skin, if needed.
You Do Need a Little Oil to Air Fry
It’s important that the coated chicken is thoroughly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray—any dry flour spots during the heated circulation process will burn rather than crisp. If you spot any dry flour areas while cooking, simply spray the area.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
Not in love with any one particular spice? If you don’t like the fiery heat from cayenne, omit it or swap it for a milder chili like chili powder or some more paprika. If you don’t have adobo handy (despite its popularity!), you can make it yourself at home or swap for powdered garlic or onion.
Also, lemons can work for limes in a pinch.
I prefer to use legs and thighs for this recipe, you can also use wings.
What to Serve With Pollo Campero Fried Chicken
Southern style fried chicken is typically eaten with sides like coleslaw and biscuits but popular sides amongst Latin Americans include yuca fries, tortillas, or beans. Any side you decide to go with will be a great accompaniment to this crunchy, citrusy fried chicken recipe.
Storing and Reheating
Air fryers are not only wonderful for their crunch-inducing capabilities, but also for reheating leftovers. Cooked fried chicken can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 5 days and reheated in the air fryer for 4 minutes at 375°F.
Alternatively, you can reheat in the oven at 300°F on a baking sheet until warmed through, about 8 to 10 minutes.
More Fantastic Fried Chicken Recipes
Pollo Campero-Style Air Fryer Fried Chicken
You'll have to air fry the chicken in batches. Cook time is between 25 to 30 minutes per batch of chicken.
For the marinade:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons sazón (homemade or store-bought)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 fresh limes, juiced
8 pieces skin-on, bone-in chicken (4 drumsticks, 4 thighs)
For the flour dredge:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon adobo (homemade or store-bought)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For cooking chicken:
Nonstick cooking spray
Prep and marinate the chicken:
In a small bowl, whisk together the salt, garlic, pepper, cumin, sazón, oregano, and lime juice. Pour into a gallon sized plastic zip-top bag. Add chicken and massage to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.
Prepare the flour dredge:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pepper, adobo, salt, cumin, and cayenne.
Coat the chicken with the flour dredge:
Remove chicken from the refrigerator. Shake off excess marinade and scrape off any solids such as large granules of garlic. Dip the chicken pieces in the flour dredge and coat well.
Let the chicken rest:
Transfer coated chicken pieces to a clean plate or wire rack with a sheet tray to rest for at least 10-15 minutes.
Air-fry the chicken:
Spray the basket of an air fryer with non-stick cooking spray. Working in batches, depending on the size of the air fryer, place chicken pieces in the basket of the air fryer (it doesn't matter if the chicken is skin-side up or down). Be sure to avoid stacking or overlapping the chicken pieces and ensure that chicken pieces do not touch.
Spray the chicken pieces lightly with non-stick cooking spray, making sure that there are no dry flour spots.
Place the basket in the air fryer and turn the air fryer to 400°F. Cook for 20 minutes, then flip the fried chicken with tongs, spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray, and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of chicken reaches 165°F.
Let chicken rest on a plate for a few minutes before serving.
Serve with coleslaw, fried yuca, beans, tortillas, or biscuits. Cooked fried chicken can be stored in the fridge for 5 days and reheated in a 300°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 22g||28%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||28%|
|Total Carbohydrate 31g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||8%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 13mg||63%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|