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This Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Tenders Salad will knock your socks off so hard, you’ll question whether you’re actually eating something even in the realm of “healthy.” Adapted for air fryer and low FODMAP from an ingenious recipe by The Paleo Running Momma, this recipe features crispy air fried chicken tenders dipped in an easy, homemade buffalo-style hot sauce, placed on a crisp salad and topped with a cool-and-creamy, dairy-free homemade ranch dressing. As if that weren’t enough, this recipe is also Paleo, Whole30 and low FODMAP (at 1 serving) as well as egg-free.
Why a salad? It’s wintertime!
I’m fully-aware of the seasonality of food blogs and that salads are typically more of a summer thing. However, my husband, Jeff, won’t stop bugging me to post this salad on the blog. Every time we eat it, which is about 2-3 times a month, he’ll chant “TO THE BLOG!” or ask “Why haven’t you posted this on the blog yet?” Every. Single. Time. In order to appease him, here you go. Happy Thanksgiving – have a buffalo chicken salad. Seriously though, after you eat this, you’ll probably ask me to thank him later.
Based on the recipes I’ve posted to this blog so far, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a meat and potatoes type of gal; however, but I do love me some salad, too. This past summer, I sought out more salad and stir-fry recipes to bring more vegetables into our lives. This is one of the recipes I discovered and is by far my absolute favourite. While it’s not as veggie-forward as others, it’s incredibly tasty (putting it very mildly) and really easy to make. As the original recipe calls for the chicken tenders to be fried in a pan, Jeff suggested that I try to make them in the air fryer. Challenge accepted! Plus, I changed a few things to covert it to a low FODMAP recipe so that my gut stays happy in addition to my taste-buds – a win-win.
While it isn’t necessarily salad season, it is football season, and buffalo-flavoured whatever is a common game day food option. So, you could serve this salad or just the buffalo chicken tenders with a ranch dipping sauce as a game day appetizer or snack.
Why Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Tenders Salad?
While I think pan-fried things taste amazing, I find that cooking the chicken tenders in the air fryer has a variety of benefits over the pan:
The breading seems to stay on better when air fried;
The chicken tenders come out crispier;
I really don’t have to keep an eye on them; I can throw them in the air fryer and prepare the rest of the salad;
Kitchen gadgets – like the air fryer – are fun.
If I have a choice between cooking on the stove/in the oven or a kitchen gadget, I pick the kitchen gadget. While it takes longer to air fry them than to pan fry them, I just use the time that they’re air frying to chop the salad ingredients and make the dressing. It all seems to even out in the end.
Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Tenders Salad Ingredients & Tips for Success
Chicken: The original recipe calls for 1 lb of chicken tenderloins, but I use two large chicken breasts as that’s what I typically have on-hand in the freezer, and I chop them into 1/2″ strips. Either option makes a good chicken tender, however.
Once the air fryer is preheated, I spray it with Paleo-compliant cooking spray (I prefer avocado oil cooking spray) and then add half of the breaded strips to the air fryer pan. I then gently spray the tops of the strips in the pan with cooking spray (no need to go spray-crazy here) and set the time to cook 6 minutes per side. Repeat the same steps with the second half of the strips.
Dairy-Free, Homemade Ranch Dressing
The Dairy-Free Homemade Ranch Dressing recipe I posted a few weeks ago pairs perfectly with this salad. It acts as a “cooling agent,” a scientific term that I just made culinary, that contrasts extremely well with the spiciness of the buffalo sauce. A half batch is typically enough for this 4-serving salad; however, if you plan to use ranch dressing with other things (like my Air Fryer French Fries), make a full batch. To make things super easy the day-of, make the dressing the night before you make the salad. This also gives the flavours time to meld together, making an even yummier dressing.
The veggie portion of the salad contains primarily FODMAP-free ingredients: romaine, carrots, red pepper, scallions (a.k.a. green onions, the green parts only). It also contains grape tomatoes which, according to Monash University, are low FODMAP at a serving up to 75 grams or 5 tomatoes. 1 cup of tomatoes is about 200 grams, so 1 serving contains less than the maximum tolerable amount.
Paleo, Low FODMAP Hot Sauce
I conducted a fair amount of research on low FODMAP hot sauces and discovered that many hot sauces contain garlic powder and/or xanthan gum, a thickening agent. Although xanthan gum is allowed on The Whole30 program, it’s a gut irritant and can be problematic for some people. I tested this recipe with a hot sauce containing xanthan gum, not knowing it was a gut irritant, and it took me a while to figure out why this particular version was bothering my stomach. I’ve read that xanthan gum can be digested in smaller amounts without difficulty (less than 1 tbsp), but as this recipe calls for 1/3 cup of hot sauce, I assume the amount of xanthan gum that this particular hot sauce contained was above the tolerable amount.
Per my research, the two Paleo, low FODMAP hot sauces I would suggest using are 1) Louisiana Hot Sauce, which is a milder but respectfully-spicy hot sauce that I found locally at Save-on-Foods; and 2) Tobasco Original Hot Pepper Sauce, which is a spicier hot sauce for those who like heat, and I imagine can be found at any mainstream grocery store in North America. I like Tobasco in smaller amounts than this recipe calls for, so I typically go with the Louisiana Hot Sauce. Both of these hot sauces contain only aged red peppers, salt and vinegar.
Be aware that some people react poorly to food that’s spicy regardless of whether it is low FODMAP or not. Be mindful of how your body reacts to spicy food and consult your doctor or dietitian before making this recipe if you have concerns about how your body might react.
In addition to hot sauce, the homemade buffalo sauce contains melted ghee, coconut aminos, and garlic-infused olive oil. Once combined, the ghee has a tendency to solidify if not applied to the chicken tenders right away, so if this happens, stick it in the microwave, covered, for about 20 seconds, and whisk again.
Perfect for an easy lunch or dinner, this Air Fryer Buffalo Chicken Tenders Salad features crispy chicken tenders dipped in a homemade, buffalo-style hot sauce, placed on a crisp salad and topped with a cool and creamy dairy-free homemade ranch dressing. Paleo, Whole30, and low FODMAP (at 1 serving) as well as egg-free.
Preheat air fryer to 370° F for 10 minutes. While your air fryer preheats, combine almond flour, sea salt, paprika, and pepper in a large bowl, whisk to combine, and set aside. Place chicken strips in another large bowl. Add tapioca flour to the bowl and toss with your hands to coat the strips evenly. Add the garlic-infused oil and toss again to coat. Dredge each strip in the almond flour mixture, shaking off the excess, and set on a plate.
Once your air fryer has preheated, spray the pan with cooking spray. Using tongs, place half of the breaded chicken strips in the pan in one layer, ideally not touching one another. Spray the strips lightly with cooking spray. Air fry for 12 minutes, flipping half way through. Once the first batch has cooked, place on a clean plate using a clean set of tongs and set aside. Using tongs, take one of the thickest strips out of the air fryer and check its temperature using an instant read thermometer. The temperature of cooked chicken should be at least 165° F (75° C) to be safely consumed. Once the first batch is the proper temperature, repeat these steps for the second half of the strips.
While the chicken strips are frying, prepare a half-batch of my dairy-free homemade ranch dressing recipe, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Chop the ingredients under “salad,” place in a large serving bowl, and refrigerate.
A minute or two before the chicken strips are done, in a large bowl, add the ingredients under “buffalo sauce,” whisk to combine and set aside until all the chicken strips are cooked. If the sauce solidifies, microwave it (covered) for about 20 seconds and whisk again.
Once the second batch of strips has finished cooking, if desired, place the first batch back in the air fryer on top of the second batch and air fry at 370° F for a minute or so until heated (I typically skip this step as they’re going on a cold salad anyway). Using tongs, take each strip out of the air fryer, dip in the buffalo sauce until fully-coated and place on a plate. Chop strips horizontally into small pieces if desired and serve on top of the salad with the ranch dressing.
*…or make a full batch to use with other things, like my Air Fryer French Fries, perhaps? Make things easier by making the ranch the night before – it also gives it time for the flavours to meld.
Please note: Some people react poorly to food that’s spicy regardless of whether or not it is low FODMAP. Be mindful of how your body reacts to spicy food and consult your doctor or dietitian before making this recipe if you have concerns about how your body might react.