Do I Need An Air Fryer In My Life?
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
In this day and age of healthy living it seems almost alien now to have a deep fat fryer in regular use at home and heaven for-fend that you might still own a chip pan. The formerly most used item in the standard working class household of the 1980's has had a full on tech-health upgrade in the last few years. the question is, are they any good?
I have to say, I kind of admire the Air Fryer, it came out originally I think by Tefal whose marketing campaign was based around cooking some French Fries (Chips if you're British) with just a teaspoon of oil. This worked well and definitely peaked the interest of the now more health-conscious public of the new millennium.
unfortunately the machine itself (which I believe you can still get) was a bit of a monstrosity, took up tons of space and cost a fortune considering you could by a deep fry pan or even an electric deep fat fryer for probably less than a quarter of the price. Soon after cheaper and naffer alternatives came about and it felt like nobody really bought them or took them seriously. And then something happened.
Fast-forward a few years and you can now buy a decent air fryer for less than 100 bucks, they're prettier, take up less space and frankly cook some items quicker, better and more energy efficiently than any other appliance. They have moved fro,m crap to cool just check out the number of beardy hipsters doing YouTube video's of cooking chicken wings!
So we decided to invest, pick up a mainstream air-fryer and put it through it's paces. We chose to use probably one of the most popular models which is the Philips TurboStar Air fryer which we managed to pick up for $150. This is pretty much the original "cool" air fryer and has just two settings; temperature and time. Hell, even I can figure that out.
So with absolutely no furthering or ado, we cracked on with the cooking and rather than bore you to death with a series of recipes (check out our recipe section for those), we thought we'd share what we learned as "Power-Home Cooks" that like to make good food but really need any gadget to contribute in some way to making our already busy lives easier to earn it's spot on the counter. Here's what we found out:
You have to calibrate yourself to what it can't do that a deep fat fryer can - It might sound obvious but it took until I actually started using it to realise, you can't do anything met in it, like say battered fish. Sounds obvious but that's an immediate and obvious thought if you were going to buy one.
No question it's healthier - Fry yourself up some chicken wings in an air fryer and you can see how much fat and oil you would have had in the deep fried version. that you now wont and for high fat meats like wings, it actually doesn't dry them out which I was surprised about.
Its instantly hot, fast, really fast - Frozen french fries from the freezer to the plate in less than 15 minutes, the deep fat fryer takes that long to heat up. You can pre-heat but that is a couple of minutes and I'm not sure how necessary it is
It's convenient and low mess - I make bacon and sausage rolls on Saturday mornings for breakfast which is frankly a bit of a chore when you've jut woken up (the end result is always worth it). This is where the air fryer becomes a game changer. Throw in 8 pork sausage links, 8 rashers of bread and a handful of mushrooms, set at full power for 15 minutes. Go make the coffee, slice the bread rolls, butter and sauce them and stick them on plates "Ding!" hot perfectly browned sausages, crispy bacon and mushrooms that have soaked up some of that lovely bacon fat in the roll and in my belly. It is actually worrying me how well and quickly it cooks bacon that I'm keeping less int he house as a bacon sandwich snack is actually too easy to make now.
It won't win the breading battle - If like me you like your breaded meat like viener schnitzel or breaded fish it'll work but you wouldn't make it for a guest. It does dry out the breading and while you could maybe spritz it with oil or something, I couldn't get consistent quality on breaded items. I'm sure I could master it but if you don't take the time for that, it's not going to beat deep frying.
It encourages you to go back to some ways of cooking you stopped doing - This is a tough one to explain but a good example would be french fries,when I stopped using a deep fat fryer, I switched to the ready made oven chips as peeling, chopping, par-boiling and then baking a potato felt like a lot of work when I could by them frozen and the quality was borderline good enough. With the air fryer, I can chop some potatoes into chips, toss them in a bowl with a little oil and some seasoning of my choosing, do my first fry on low heat, leave them sitting in the fryer to cool and do my second fry at full heat 10 minutes before I want to eat and I have really good home-made french fries for half the price and double the quality.
It improves your timing - Let me give you an example, you want to make some nice Philly Cheese-Steak sandwiches. First you fry off some onions and green peppers, few minutes later you drop some steak and fry that, you tend to that carefully until just the right time and you drop on the cheese and use a steam-lid to finish the whole thing up before putting it on the bread. That's all good but your attention timing on all that is everything, in the air fryer, you can drop in the peppers and onions, set for 5 minutes then walk away and do something else, then when it's finished go back and drop the steak and set for 3 minutes, then leave it sitting until you're ready (Instead of when it's ready) and drop the cheese for the last 2 minutes. That might sound lazy but in the time I wasn't standing at the cooker top, I got to toast the bread and knock up a little chermoula dressing for the Cheese-steaks!
It can make you a scientist! - No kidding. Since I got this thing, I have convinced myself I can figure out the prefect sequence of times, weights and temperatures to cook the perfect steak straight from the fridge. You may think I'm losing my marbles but the most important thing in cooking a steak is heat (and lots of it), timing and resting, most importantly resting. With the air fryer, it must be possible to take your steak from a refrigerator with a fixed temperature, calculate the weight of the steak, cook it in the air fryer at the perfect temperature and then leave it for the optimal amount of time for that size steak to make it perfect. It works in Sous Vide cooking but doesn't crisp the outside of the meat, Air fryer cold be the solution (or maybe a combination of the two). Either way, I'm trying to figure it out and will probably do another post when I've cracked it (or I finally crack!)
And they are the big headliners. Out of all the things we tried, the most impressive results were:
Sausage & Bacon - As good as a frying pan and half the hassle
Home Made French Fries From potato to plate. Triple cooked quality without the hassle.
Chicken Wings - Or any fatty meat in general (Chinese Pork Belly was also a hit). Seems to have something to do with self-basting. Definitely a healthy way to have the naughtiest cuts. Lamb chops were slap-your-momamazing.
Broccoli & Cauliflower - I like these in the oven anyway but the fryer does a great job of giving them a crispy edge, a little curry powder on the Cauliflower was excellent.
The fails were:
Breaded chicken - Edible but dry on home made breading. Seemed to work better for frozen processed food but you shouldn't be eating that anyway
Lean Meat - I cooked some pork fillet and it was like a wallet, I suspect chicken breast would be the same. Wrapping in bacon could fix it (Bacon fixes everything)
Veg with high water content - Not that I would normally deep-fry this kind of thing but i tried some cherry tomatoes and some Aubergine (Eggplant / Brinjal) and it seems to draw the moisture out and make them mushy. Stick to the dryer root vegetables.
Things we're still going to try:
Whole chicken - I have a feeling this could be a winner and if I do it upside down, it will keep the breasts moist and I think will replicate a store-bought rotisserie chicken.
Lasagne - I can't see it working but I think if done right and with a little practice, you could generate the same environment in an air fryer as you get in a brisk pizza-oven. If I'm right, that could be a bit of a thing.
Bread rolls - I've seen a few recipes on this and it looks like a winner. I've never gotten to a recipe that gives you those great fluffy white sandwich rolls I love with ham salad inside. From what I've seen the air fryer might be the answer.
Conclusion - It's a winner
I'm sold, and it's staying. In terms of time, clean-up and convenience (and bacon) it is a valid tool. In fact so much, I'm going to test out some more high end machines and see if there is any reason to gift the trusty Philips off to someone and get a more high-end unit. I'll right another post on that soon and share my experience.
In the meantime, if you're in the market, I would recommend the Philips TurboStar as a good solid and functional machine and for $150 I think it's good value. There are cheaper but given the heat and punishment this thing is likely to get, I would recommend a solid brand with a decent warranty.
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