A SIZZLING FLING, SORT OF
My reluctant dalliance with a needy air fryer, a true story
At this point in life, does one even want to get into a new relationship, with all its initial awkwardness and missteps? A comfort zone – or a rut, tomato/tomahto – is called that for a reason; it’s cosy and warm and fuzzy. But maybe a little fling, just to keep things interesting…
When microwave ovens first became popular, the big selling point was the ability to cook a banquet for a hundred guests in about four minutes. When I bought my first one, it came with a hardcover recipe book filled with all the dishes I would never make. That was more than 30 years ago, and to this day I’ve never done anything but reheat, defrost, or warm up half mugs of forgotten tea.
I remember being told if we looked through the glass window in the door while it was microwaving, it would cook our eyeballs. Fun times. Decades of technology later, the darn things still turn the outside of the food to lava while retaining a core of ice.
We are now in the era of the air fryer. They’ve been around since 2010 but it’s like when you do something (illegal or otherwise) and you tell someone about it, suddenly it turns out everybody is doing it. Same with air fryers.
I’d heard of them of course, but didn’t know much about them, and cared even less. Unlike special offers on wine and books, I felt no urge to fling my credit card at it and invite one into my home. Then, through no fault of my own, an air fryer came into my life.
My first thought was “oh my word, it’s huge!” By all means, add “that’s what she said”. It’s my childish and toxic trait to never miss such an opportunity. But seriously. The thing is massive, as kitchen appliances go. Where was I going to put it?
At first, nowhere. It sat in its box on the floor in my office for a good few weeks while I eyed it warily from a distance. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to learn to get to know it. You reach a point in your life when you simply can’t be bothered with such things; it’s so much easier not to, and go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book rather. My reasoning was, I’ve lived this long without an air fryer, why start now? No immediate benefits were apparent.
After talking to a few people about it (all of whom turned out to be existing converts) I got plenty of advice and tips, but the sensible voice of reason that swung me was: “Use it once, then make up your mind.”
A lot of Googling ensued, and for my first trick I kept it safe and simple. Frozen sweet potato fries. What could go wrong?
Well, for starters, the timer button on my particular air fryer is not exactly easy to control accurately. And if I overshoot the mark, there’s (literally) no turning back. The temperature one requires a fair amount of guesswork itself but fortunately nearly everything you make in an air fryer is at 180 or 200 degrees. I’ve already learned to adapt these functions to each other.
The first batch of fries emerged blackened on the edges. I was suitably impressed with the temperatures achieved, and threw in another handful. This time I checked them every couple of minutes and they didn’t burn. They weren’t all cooked through either.
I packed the fryer back in its box and shoved it under the counter where I had made space for it. We could both sulk for a while.
It seemed like it would be a massive schlep to retrieve it every time I wanted to use it. In and out, up and down… but we can become accustomed to almost anything. I refused to let this gadget get the better of me. A friend had mentioned pork sausages do really well, so in they went. It was around about this point that I realised I had to separate the alleged convenience of an air fryer from any similar benefits of a microwave. To wit: It’s not necessarily a quicker cooking method.
The benefits, as I understand them, include saving electricity, with no preheating required, and not frying in oil. These are good selling points given the cost of both. Have you seen the price of sunflower oil now? The health advantage of less oil is fairly obvious, but I had to get my head around the “fryer” part. I don’t actually fry much, other than eggs, so I stumbled over that in the beginning, when choosing what to make. As it turns out, just about anything. But not things in batter, says the internet. Or melted cheese. Mainly because of the almighty mess.
The sausages were a win, and I noted how much oil they had expressed into the bottom of the fryer (for advanced users, tin foil is your friend, if you don’t have a dishwasher).
The next thing was supermarket chicken schnitzel, something I would never normally make or eat. It was really unimaginative, and I’m ashamed of myself. I include it here as a cautionary tale.
It began to get interesting when I decided to consult the app that comes with the fryer. It’s filled with dozens if not hundreds of recipes. Not exactly advanced cooking, but the baked potatoes with ham, cheese and mayonnaise were rather delicious.
Confidence bolstered, I woke up early one morning (not on purpose, it was very annoying) and made bagels. Absolutely bloody awful. They looked brilliant when they came out but they were dense. I’d say like rock buns but my granny’s rock buns that I loved as a child, with a mug of Horlicks at bedtime, were much lighter. The only bit that was nice was the classic topping combination – smoked salmon, cream cheese and thinly sliced red onion.
The grande finale, in terms of test cooking for this story, was the grandest triumph too. Falafel.
Not only are they super easy to make, but they turned out spectacularly well. Naturally I played a little fast and loose with the recipe, specifically by using quite a lot more olive oil. I didn’t have any coriander seeds either. It doesn’t get much more effortless than bunging all the ingredients in a blender, then forming the mixture into balls. Hauling the air fryer out, and packing it away afterwards, is more PT.
I set the timer a touch longer than advised but I think that balanced out with the extra olive oil. The falafel were light and airy inside (I hate dry falafel), and delicately crispy and golden outside. I served them with low carb pita, tzatziki, taramasalata, feta, olives, cucumber and tomato.
Am I in love yet? No. I need more time. And to get the fries right, then we can talk. DM/TGIFood
Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoleman
The writer supports Ladles Of Love, which in six years, has grown from serving 70 meals at its first soup kitchen, to one of the most prolific food charity organisations in South Africa.