I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to kitchen appliances. I like to do things from scratch and am very wary of new gadgets. I have heard many a tale of late about the wonders of air fryers and I had smiled politely, imagining that this was yet another gadget I didn't need. The talk kept coming, more and more brands were bringing out their versions of the much-coveted appliance and I realised I needed to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.
What is an air fryer?
Air fryers arrived in kitchens with the promise that they would be able to produce the results of a deep fryer, without all the oil and mess. In a bid to replicate crisp on the outside, yet tender on the inside hot chips, an air fryer circulates hot air around food, ensuring a crispy outside in less time, with less saturated fat and other unhealthy nasties. You also don't have to deal with disposing of any used oil at the end.
For many home cooks the appeal of the air fryer is that it cooks foods faster than a conventional oven as well as not heating up an entire room. Another appeal is how quickly the air fryer heats up, compared to a traditional oven – the one I tested took just three minutes.
There is a wide variance in costs of air fryer, from $69 for the much-coveted Kmart petite 3.2-litre version to more complex versions like the one I tested my cooking skills on, a Breville Combi Wave 3 in 1 that functions as an air fryer, microwave and convection oven and retails for $799.95.
What is it for?
When I embarked on my air fryer journey a colleague warned me: "Your intake of hash browns will go up exponentially." This portentous warning was fairly accurate. An air fryer is designed to cook food that would usually be deep fried, like chips, crumbed chicken and lots of other unhealthy morsels from the frozen section of the supermarket. As a result I spent several weeks indulging in lots of breaded goodies, which is not my usual go-to and not something one should consume every day.
When you search on the trusty interwebs for "things you can cook in an air fryer" the results seem to imply that you can fry up just about anything and everything.
Some blogs espoused the wonders of the fryer in cooking roast vegetable quickly. Others talked about the joy of using the trusty fryer to making decadent desserts – donuts come to mind, but I haven't had the chance to try them yet.
In a lightly toasted nutshell, the air fryer will "fry" food that you would usually crisp up in the oven - like nuggets or crumbed fish, but it will also cook a lot of foods from scratch - faster than your oven could.
How does it perform?
My first attempt at cooking in the air fryer involved the humble hash brown. The result was good. It was crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, taking around 20 minutes to get to perfection. It was a hash brown though, it is hard to get them wrong, so I wasn't impressed yet.
Next I grabbed a bag of frozen spicy battered chicken pieces. I had never even thought to look for something like frozen fried chicken before, but I spotted some Tegel Take Outs Nashville Style Portions and they seemed to me the perfect thing for the air fryer. The result was exceptional. This was the air fryer in all its glory. The fryer cooked the chicken pieces to crunchy perfection in just 35 minutes, a good 15 minutes shy of the oven time suggested on the packet. It was so good that it has created a bad habit in my home, with my husband and I indulging in them on at least three occasions since. We are currently trying to quit and are on the hunt for a support group.
In an attempt to recover from my new chicken addiction, I decided to take a different, healthier approach to air frying. I popped some capsicum strips in there, to see if air frying them would get them to a chargrilled state sooner. That was a bit of a fail. They didn't get any char on them and rather just went a bit soft. I had to move them to the direct heat of the grill. We also attempted some papadums in there, but they just wouldn't puff up and we had to switch to microwave mode. Then came a test of my absolute, all-time favourite deep-fried food – falafel.
I have made falafel from scratch at home many times and the one thing I hate about it is the deep frying. The air fryer seemed like the answer. The result? Perfect, crisp, delicious falafel. It made me so happy. I performed the test with store bought frozen falafel as I was a bit time poor but I think fresh falafel would be a winner too. If you are a falafel fan, Danny's falafel, from the supermarket freezer is excellent in the air fryer.
Friday is pizza night in our house and I like to roast some mushrooms before I add them on top. It concentrates the flavour and sucks out the water content so you don't get a soggy pizza base. I roughly chopped the 'shrooms, drizzled on some oil, salt and pepper and popped them into the fryer. They took about 12 minutes and the result was perfect for my pizza and much faster than ye old oven.
Another odd thing that I thought I would try in the fryer was tofu. I believe tofu is at its best when it has had most of the moisture baked out of it. Doing it this way enables the tofu to then suck up sauce like a sponge. I cut some firm tofu into cubes and popped them in the air fryer. I gave them 15 minutes, turning once and the result was really good. I think next time I would do them for a bit longer, but they worked well covered with my sticky soy and ginger sauce (recipe below).
Do you need one?
At the start of my air fryer adventure, the answer to this question would have been a firm, "no". Spending two weeks in fry-town has softened my take quite a bit though. I am a traditionalist, I make my own pizza dough, bread and even pasta when I have time, so an appliance designed to cut corners is never going to be a must for me. As the days passed, however, I found myself liking the air fryer more and more and my husband - who is not a confident cook - found that it made getting a meal together for the kids easier, and faster. For me, as a falafel addict, I was swayed the minute I bit into those crispy chickpea bites of perfection. I really like my air fryer. Do I think I need one? No. Do I like having one? Hell yes!
Soy and ginger tofu noodle bowl
I cooked the tofu in an air fryer, but you could use a conventional oven, you will need to press as much of the water out as possible first, and increase the cooking time by about 10 minutes.
1 packet firm tofu
2 portions buckwheat soba noodles
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 sprinkle sesame seeds
For the sauce:
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Chinese vinegar
½ Tbsp of brown sugar or honey
1 tsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1. Place diced tofu into preheated air fryer or oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.
2. While the tofu is cooking, boil the noodles as per packet instructions (usually around 5 minutes) adding the broccoli to the pot for the last 2 minutes. Then drain and run under cold water.
3. Sauté vegetable oil and garlic for a minute on medium heat. Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes until slightly thickened. If you like a thicker sauce combine a teaspoon of corn flour with a tablespoon of water and add to the sauce, stirring till thickened.
4. When tofu is ready, pour over the sauce.
5. Place noodles and broccoli in a bowl, top with tofu and sauce. Sprinkle over sesame seeds and serve.