I’m not sure when it happened, but French fries have become one of my 7-year-old’s staples.
Not potatoes — he won’t go near scalloped, baked or stuffed — but golden, crunchy-on-the-outside, feather-soft-on-the-inside fries. My oven version won’t do. And the frozen kind is too salty.
So I recently took the plunge and bought an Air Fryer, the trendy kitchen appliance with marketing claims of making classic fried foods with a teaspoon of cooking oil, to see if it could satisfy the boy and help me make weeknight meals fun. Perhaps indulging in light, low-fat versions of fish and chips or fried chicken could be our reward for eating so much kale.
I was hesitant at first. I already owned an Instant Pot, and was using that with success for everything from mushroom risotto to coconut yogurt. Did I really need another kitchen appliance taking up precious counter space? What if it didn’t deliver on its crispy-crunchy promises?
On the advice of a friend, I purchased a small, affordably-priced fryer, the 2.4 quart Power Air Fryer XL, for $75. High end models and brands can cost up to $400, but when it comes to the actual technology, they’re all basically the same.
An air fryer works like a convection oven by circulating hot air — up to 400 degrees — around and between the food. The heat transfer capabilities also shorten the cooking time of most foods, so you can have crunchy chicken tenders on the table in 14 minutes. A digital touch panel and four preset programs — French fries, chicken, steak and fish — make it user-friendly.
When the Air Fryer arrived, we tore into the box, reading the owner’s manual and small recipe booklet. There are only a few components to this appliance> the fry basket, outer basket and a food divider insert, if you need it. And the only major safety warning is to keep your hands away from the rear air outlet vent. Don’t place the appliance against a wall, either; the hot steam needs to release freely.
Truth time: My first fried chicken was an epic fail. After dipping my drumsticks in a seasoned flour mix, then in milk (we don’t use buttermilk) then in the flour again, I arranged the legs in the basket and set the fryer to the chicken icon for 20 minutes at 360 degrees.
To my dismay, the legs were raw on one side. Most recipes tell you to turn the chicken every five minutes. If you skip this step, like I did, your food will not cook evenly. Lesson learned. Unlike pressure cookers, air fryers are designed to be opened during the cooking process. It’s perfectly safe, so do it.
Next up, fish sticks: I dipped cod rectangles into flour, an egg-and-milk mixture, then panko bread crumbs and cooked it for 12 minutes on 360 degrees — flipping them half way through this time — and they turned out just great. Light and flaky inside, crunchy outside.
Did every piece have that picture-perfect golden color? No. Keep your definition of fried food in check — this is circulating air, not a vat of bubbling peanut oil. They didn’t look perfect, but the crispiness was there without the grease.
I had similar results with my tenders. The chicken was surprisingly juicy and had that crunch we craved. Some recipes suggest you put 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of oil into your breadcrumbs, but most of my friends just spray the fry basket with oil, rather like greasing a baking sheet, and then spritz the food once before sliding the basket into the unit. Easy peasy.
I have yet to create anything sweet in the Air Fryer, but it can do that, too, producing everything from churros to hand pies. The appliance can also be used to make non-fried dishes, like crispy toasted tofu or even turkey breast. That’s where I’m headed next.
Ultimately, the Air Fryer is fuss-free, easy to clean and won’t heat up even the smallest kitchens because there’s no open flame or heat source. While it might prove too basic for a skilled home chef, it’s great for a novice, especially fry-bingeing college students. And, of course, families with fries-loving kids.
Bring on the dipping sauces! The French fries were the best thing I made. McDonald’s-gold in color, with the crisp exterior and soft interior my picky eater wants. Just make sure to give them a good toss midway. No one wants raw potatoes.
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Got a recipe to share?
This story is part of an occasional series inspired by food technology. Think your Air Fryer is the apex of user-friendly food technology? Or do you have a fantastic Air Fryer recipe you’d like to share? Send your Air Fryer tips — and other food tech discoveries — to Jessica Yadegaran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published at Sat, 28 Jul 2018 08:00:29 +0000