Air Fryers. Didn't have one; didn't have a view for or against, though a few friends are keen devotees. Life changed last week in the shape of a large box as a birthday present. Indian giving, possibly. Anyway, have beast, will fry. For experiment 1 below, I had no clue what to do and nothing but the useless "instruction" manual. My cookbook, one of the best sellers, arrived the following day.
When you start to research it, you realise that the name is pretty darn stupid. According to the internet, a heating element near the top of the fryer emits heat into the air in the cooking chamber (radiation), while a fan circulates the heated air rapidly around it (convection).
So far, so good. It continues, this combination creates a very intense heat transfer, resulting in a cooking method that's closer to frying than baking. In a word, bollocks. We know what frying is. It involves oil or fat, lots of it. An air fryer doesn't. That's the genius of the marketing. Cook all your fattening foods with hardly any oil. Hey, fatsos, come and buy me!
Well, it's easy enough to make potato wedges in your oven, drizzled with a little oil, but they ain't chips. Let's try AF for size.
Chips Mark 1
Enter Air Fryer World and you will discover that chips no longer exist. They are fries. Well not in this house, they're not. Let's try one of the few "recipes" in the manual.
Parboil the potatoes? Good. For 10 minutes? I think not - they'll collapse. Anyway, 5 mins parboil, dry, then in they go. Stop and shake a couple of times. End of cooking time - peely wally mess. Up the heat and blast for another five. OK at the edges, stodgy in the middle.
You preheat an oven, but not an empty fryer. Ah! Book arrives from Amazon the next day. ****ing manual said nothing about preheating. Should have gone with my instinct. Illustrations show generous cooking bowl full of chips. Don't think mine had enough circulation space. If you're restricted to one layer, not room for many.
Chips Mark 2
Parboil, dry, oil lightly, cook, shake, eat.
A little better, but not much. A bit greasy - down to me no doubt. Put only one layer in. Should I have used the grate thing?
An absolute favourite in Casa Johnston, oft found in these columns. Something that takes a long time (45 - 60) minutes in an oven. Checked them after 15 minutes. Perfect.
Being no scientist, I worry that the eggs will explode. They will need 6 minutes in the air fryer, but only five and a half in a saucepan. Both will take an equal time to warm up. Result? No explosion and 4 perfectly boiled eggs.
No time saving. My induction hob will have the water boiling in a minute. Is the AF cheaper? Eggs perfectly cooked, but the downside is that they are hellishly hot to handle. Turning scientist, I explain to L that they were done at 180˚C, whereas the water in the pan can't possibly go above 100. I notice that the shells are more brittle, making them a little more fiddly to eat.
You're kidding me! Why on earth would you make toast in an air fryer? Because my book says you can. 1 minute on each side, allegedly. From the corner of the kitchen I hear a snort of derision from the toaster. After 1 minute each side I have colourless, slightly warm bread. Try again. After 3½ minutes in total I have colourless warm bread with a hint of a crunch.
Why on earth would you make toast in an air fryer? From the same corner of the kitchen I swear I heard a chuckle.
Want these for dinner and you have to plan well in advance. Here I chucked in chunks of red onion, aubergine, pepper and courgette. A tiny drizzle of oil, a sprig of rosemary and a clove of garlic. The side dish done in 15 minutes. Now possible to do this in the same time it takes your potatoes to boil.
Even before fuel prices rocketed, we all knew it was an extravagance to run an oven for 90 minutes to bake some spuds. So you can soften them in the microwave and crisp them up in a conventional oven. It's OK and you get used to second best. But stick them in your air fryer for 40 minutes and voilà! Baked tatties like they used to be.
I will persist, and I may return with part two of these chronicles in due course. Right now, I am sold on the idea of this as a supercharged version of a conventional fan oven with significant advantages in terms of speed and cost. The frying? The jury's out.
You users out there, I invite you to share your experiences, tips, recipes and hints. You know how to get in touch.