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How to cook popcorn shrimp in an air fryer?

Air fryers have become increasingly popular in recent years as a healthy alternative to deep frying. Cooking popcorn shrimp in an air fryer is a quick and easy way to make this tasty appetizer or snack at home, without all the extra calories and mess of deep frying.

What is Popcorn Shrimp?

Popcorn shrimp are small shrimp that are breaded and fried, usually served as an appetizer. The name comes from the popping sound the shrimp make as they cook. Breading helps the shrimp cook up extra crispy.

You can buy frozen preprocessed popcorn shrimp or use raw shrimp to make your own. Buying raw shrimp lets you control the ingredients and allows you to customize the breading.

Benefits of Cooking Popcorn Shrimp in an Air Fryer

Here are some of the benefits of using an air fryer instead of deep frying:

  • Uses significantly less oil – An air fryer only requires about 1-2 tablespoons of oil to lightly coat the shrimp. Deep frying soaks the food in gallons of oil.
  • Fewer calories – With less oil, air fried popcorn shrimp absorb less fat and calories.
  • Crispy texture – The hot air circulates around the shrimp, cooking them until perfectly crispy.
  • Doesn’t heat up the kitchen – Unlike a pot of hot oil, an air fryer doesn’t radiate much ambient heat.
  • Quick and easy – Air frying is a fast, convenient cooking method with minimal prep and clean up.
  • Safer – There’s no risk of burns from hot oil splattering.

Ingredients Needed

To make popcorn shrimp in an air fryer you will need:

  • Shrimp – Raw, peeled and deveined shrimp. Choose a small size like 51/60 per pound.
  • Flour – All-purpose flour helps the breading stick to the shrimp.
  • Breading – Panko breadcrumbs or crushed crackers make the crispiest coating.
  • Eggs – Whisked eggs bind the breading to the shrimp.
  • Oil – A small amount of cooking oil to lightly coat the shrimp before air frying.
  • Seasonings – Salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, etc.

How to Bread Shrimp for Air Frying

Breading helps the shrimp get perfectly crispy in the air fryer. Follow these steps:

  1. Rinse shrimp under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Place flour in one bowl, whisked eggs in a second bowl, and breadcrumbs in a third bowl. Season each bowl.
  3. Dredge each shrimp first in flour, shaking off any excess. This helps the egg coating stick to the shrimp.
  4. Next, dip the floured shrimp in the egg mixture, allowing any excess to drip off.
  5. Finally, place the egged shrimp in the breadcrumbs. Press gently so the crumbs adhere. Place on a baking sheet.
  6. Refrigerate breaded shrimp for 15-30 minutes before air frying so the coating sets.

How to Air Fry Popcorn Shrimp

Once your shrimp are breaded, follow these steps to cook them to crispy perfection:

  1. Preheat air fryer to 400°F.
  2. Lightly brush or spray shrimp with oil. Air fryers need very little oil.
  3. Cook shrimp in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the air fryer basket. Overcrowding prevents proper air circulation.
  4. Air fry for 2-5 minutes until golden brown, flipping shrimp halfway. Adjust time as needed based on air fryer model.
  5. Popcorn shrimp cooks very quickly in the hot air. Check frequently to avoid overcooking.
  6. Serve shrimp immediately while hot and crispy. Enjoy with your choice of dipping sauces.

Tips for the Best Air Fried Popcorn Shrimp

Here are some helpful tips for perfect popcorn shrimp every time in your air fryer:

  • Use very small shrimp for the right popcorn shrimp size and shape.
  • Cut large shrimp in half lengthwise so they cook evenly.
  • Let breaded shrimp chill in the fridge for up to 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Brush or spray shrimp with just 1-2 teaspoons oil before air frying.
  • Work in small batches to prevent overcrowding and uneven cooking.
  • Flip shrimp halfway during cooking to crisp both sides.
  • Don’t overcook – cook just until the breading is golden brown.
  • Let cooked shrimp rest 1-2 minutes before serving.
  • Serve immediately for the crispiest texture.

Popcorn Shrimp Dipping Sauces

Serve your hot, crispy air fried popcorn shrimp with any of these delicious dipping sauces:

  • Cocktail sauce
  • Tartar sauce
  • Spicy mayo
  • Honey mustard
  • Sweet chili sauce
  • Ranch dressing
  • BBQ sauce
  • Ketchup

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

To store leftovers:

  • Let cooked popcorn shrimp cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
  • For longer storage, freeze breaded raw shrimp on a baking sheet then transfer to a freezer bag. It will keep for 2-3 months.
  • To reheat, place refrigerated leftovers in a 350°F oven for 4-5 minutes until hot and crispy.
  • You can also re-air fry leftover breaded shrimp at 400°F for 1-2 minutes to restore crispiness.

Other Air Fryer Shrimp Recipes to Try

Once you get the basics down, try adapting these flavors:

  • Cajun – Cajun seasoning and remoulade sauce
  • Lemon pepper – Lemon zest, black pepper, parsley
  • Bang Bang – Sweet chili sauce and spicy mayo drizzle
  • Coconut – Panko and coconut flakes for the breading
  • Sesame ginger – Toasted sesame oil and ginger in the breading

You can also cook jumbo shrimp, shrimp skewers, or bacon wrapped shrimp in the air fryer. Just adjust times accordingly for larger shrimp.

Conclusion

Cooking popcorn shrimp in an air fryer yields perfectly crispy results with less oil and mess than deep frying. Just a few tablespoons of oil is needed to lightly coat the breaded shrimp before air frying. Air circulation crisp the shrimp beautifully in minutes. Work in small batches, flip halfway through, and don’t overcook. Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauces.

The air fryer allows you to enjoy this tasty appetizer or snack at home without needing a pot of hot oil. You can bread the shrimp yourself or use frozen preprocessed popcorn shrimp. Adjust the cooking times as needed based on the size of your air fryer model. And experiment with different seasonings and sauces for flavor variations.

So next time you get a craving for popcorn shrimp, give your air fryer a try for quick, easy, and delicious results!