Air fryers: miraculous kitchen must-have, or just a load of hot air? – The Guardian

Everyone from Gordon Ramsay to the lowliest Instagrammer is singing the praises of these low-fat cookers. But do they live up to the hype?
I have never been catfished by a kitchen appliance before, but I was always going to be vulnerable to the air fryer’s promise of “fabulous chips – just add air”. “Next level amazzzzing,” one Instagrammer panted. Another called it “a total gamechanger when it comes to cooking”, while Gordon Ramsay claimed the results are like food “cooked in oil, but [the air fryer] locks in the juice and the flavour is extraordinary”.
Admittedly, Ramsay was starring in an advert for the Philips Airfryer at the time. But if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is: Philips was rapped over the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Authority in 2012 for that “just add air” tagline, given that the small print specified that oil was needed to produce the crisp, golden chips seen on screen (Philips now claims, more modestly, that its product requires “90% less fat”). To be honest, that wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. Anything that significantly reduces the litres of oil required for deep-fat frying is still an attractive prospect.
Although air fryers have been around for more than a decade, Google Trends data shows interest climbed vertiginously in 2020, with little sign of slowing. Sales at John Lewis were up 400% in 2021. In January, the New York Times devoted 1,800 words to exploring how the air fryer “crisped its way into America’s heart”, while the Telegraph called it “the must-have kitchen gadget you didn’t know you needed”.
Yet the technology for the air fryer is nothing new. It is basically a countertop fan oven. Despite its name, it does not “fry” things. It bakes them, and it bakes them fast, because, like all ovens, it is a well-insulated box – one that heats up quickly because of its size, then cooks quickly thanks to the presence of an extra-powerful, well-located fan to push that heat around.
The sleek, black Ninja Air Fryer Max (£149.99) I borrow, with its “max crisp technology” and “super-fast airflow”, looks reassuringly space age. It has roughly the same footprint as the small microwave I have never had room for, but this is the future of cooking, so I make the room. (Clare Andrews, the lockdown convert behind the Air Fryer UK blog, recommends you do your research: “They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are much larger than others, some look more stylish. It’s all about weighing up your needs and preferences.”)
As this feels like starting again in the cooking department, I put myself in the capable hands of the nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche, whose Air-Fryer Cookbook (Ryland Peters & Small, £16.99) promises that an all-day breakfast is “possibly the laziest meal … you can prepare in the air-fryer!”
I heat the Ninja to 180C, which takes three minutes, and arrange tomatoes on the slotted, non-stick shelf inside. After three minutes, I add bacon, black pudding (Tschiesche calls for a mushroom, but she is a nutritionist and I’m not) and a whole egg, then shut the drawer while I make tea and toast.
To my amazement, I end up with a perfect soft‑boiled egg, a well-cooked tomato, crisp bacon and cooked black pudding in under 15 minutes … and just one pan to wash up.
One of the best things about my new gadget is how easy it is to play around with it; it would be great for students, or kids taking their first steps into independent cookery. An air-fryer cheesecake recipe went viral recently. I’m tipped off about the magic of air-fryer cheese toasties, corn on the cob, pakoras and reheated pizza. Correspondents report good results with everything from croquetas de jamon to flourless chocolate cake; someone’s mum in Sri Lanka uses it to cook vada (crispy snacks that are usually deep-fried), and reports “total success without all the oiliness”. Tschiesche loves it for how fuss-free it makes cooking fish in particular, and the Manchester chef Zosima Fulwell, who did a Christmas dinner in hers, says: “It’s pretty much replaced my oven.”
Four days later, I think I have the measure of the air fryer. Notable wins include a whole (small) red mullet cooked without a whiff of fish, crispy chickpeas and some of the nicest brussels sprouts I have eaten. Failures include chewy calamari and tofu with the texture of a pool float. Frozen chips are crisper than their oven-baked equivalents – and ready in half the time. I’m also able to bake a frozen ball of cookie dough in 15 minutes, which makes the air fryer a potentially dangerous object to have around.
Best of all, the short cooking times mean I don’t feel guilty putting the Ninja to work for small amounts of food. Most air fryers run at a considerably lower wattage than the average oven. But when I ask Dr Christian Reynolds, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, if they are a good bet for those of us trying to save energy (ie just about everyone), he says the situation is nuanced: “It depends how many people you’re feeding. They can be more energy-efficient for individuals, but it very much depends on your lifestyle.”
In other words, because they can’t accommodate as much food as a full-size oven, you may need to put them on twice – once for fish fingers and again for chips, say – and so you might not be saving much money. He calculates that it would cost me 9p to cook a baked potato in the air fryer and 16p to do so in the oven. For maximum energy efficiency, he recommends microwaving the potato first (about 0.26p) and then finishing it in the air fryer, to crisp the skin.
The award-winning food writer Melissa Thompson says she often uses the air fryer to reheat things. Unlike a deep-fat fryer, however, it is not capable “of sealing something, cooking the interior and then crisping up the exterior”, she adds. “For me, they’re similar to a Thermomix [a fancy multifunction food processor much beloved of chefs] – you need to start out with one before you buy other gadgets, otherwise you’re just doubling up.”
I can confirm, having tried them, that Thompson’s air-fried chips are indeed “as good as deep-fried ones”, but I would also say, from my own experience, that air‑fried chicken wings will probably never quite hit the spot. And really, if you are going to have fried chicken, you may as well make it really good fried chicken.
I will be sad to wave goodbye to the Ninja. I can see it being very useful for all sorts of stuff – even if the one thing I wouldn’t actually use it for is frying. It does make a lovely boiled egg, though.

source

Leave a comment

Shopping cart

×