Louisa Holst’s tips for air-frying success

Louisa Holst’s tips for air-frying success
(Cover photography: Donna Lewis. Composite image: Tony Jackman)

We’re all getting to know our air fryers, and they’re not all the same. But they have commonalities, and Louisa Holst has an inside track on getting the best out of your countertop convection oven.

In her new book, food editor and recipe developer Louisa Holst nails how to use an air fryer and offers a range of easy family meals. She shares her knowhow, from her new book, The South African Air Fryer Cookbook. Here are her tips for getting the most out of that air fryer you’re trying to master, and a pair of recipes from the book.

  • Not all recipes specify that you need to preheat your air fryer before cooking, but I prefer to do it. It shortens the cooking time and ensures good results, especially when you are cooking meat or baking. Check the instructions for your air fryer – some will beep when they have reached the correct heat and others have a light that goes on or off.
  • Don’t overload your air fryer’s basket and never fill it more than two-thirds full. It is better to cook one layer of ingredients at a time to make sure that the air can circulate properly and the food is able to crisp and brown.
  • Turn or toss your ingredients halfway through cooking. Most ingredients, especially vegetables and chips, need to be tossed during cooking to ensure that they cook and crisp up evenly. Sometimes bakes need to be rotated if your air fryer doesn’t cook evenly.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check if your meat is cooked through, especially if you are cooking larger cuts of meat, especially pork. In general, most things will cook much quicker in the air fryer compared to the oven.
  • Bakes, especially smaller bakes like cupcakes, sometimes finish up with a wobbly shape. This is due to the air that blows on them during cooking, as well as the fact that the element at the top of the air fryer is quite close to the batter. You can cover your bakes with a piece of aluminium foil to help create a better shape.
  • If you are cooking very fatty ingredients like pork rashers, you may notice a lot of smoke coming out of the air vents in your air fryer. To help reduce the smoke, pour a little water into the base of your air fryer under the basket.
  • Always make sure that your air fryer has space around it. It is necessary for the air to circulate as this helps it not to overheat. It should also be on a heatproof surface.
  • Always wash your air fryer after it has been used. Soak the basket and drawer in warm, soapy water. The non-stick surface should make cleaning with a soft sponge very easy. Some are also dishwasher safe but check the manual to make sure, otherwise the non-stick surface may get damaged and peel.
  • Cooking times and temperatures differ to those of a conventional oven so you need to adapt your recipes. In general, you need to decrease the temperatures by about 20°C and shorten the cooking times by about a quarter to half.
  • Do not cover the whole base of the air fryer’s basket with a large cooking container or foil. The air needs to circulate in order for it to cook properly. Use a smaller cooking container or a perforated silicone cooking mat.
  • Brush or spray your ingredients with a little oil before adding any spices. The oil will help the spices to stick to the ingredients, otherwise they might be blown off by the circulating air.
  • Avoid cooking very light ingredients in the air fryer as the circulating air can cause them to fly up and stick to the cooking element and burn. Do not cover food with a piece of baking paper for the same reason: it will get blown onto the element and burn. If you need to cover the food, use a piece of aluminium foil and tuck it in under your ingredients slightly.
  • Read the manual of your specific air fryer to check if any products are not suitable for using in the appliance. However, in most cases, silicone baking moulds, baking paper liners, aluminium foil containers and ovenproof dishes and tins are all suitable. You are limited by the size of your air fryer, however, so most containers need to be 15-20 cm or smaller to fit into the air-fryer basket.
  • Make sure you use silicone-coated tongs or spatulas to lift or turn your ingredients without scratching the non-stick surface on the insides of the air fryer.
  • Parchment liners and silicone mats make cleaning the air fryer a lot easier and are especially useful if you are cooking a dish that has a marinade or sauce on it.
  • An oil spray bottle is handy to use to spray a little oil onto your food before cooking. This will help give the food a golden, crisp finish. Add a little water to the oil in the bottle to help prevent the oil from clogging.
  • Have a look at homeware stores, baking shops, plastic shops, packaging shops, Chinese stores and to find a variety of containers and baking accessories that can be used in an air fryer.

Chutney chicken with couscous

Louisa Holst’s chutney chicken. (Photo: Donna Lewis)

An old favourite that can be cooked easily in an air fryer. Serve with colourful peppers and couscous.

(Serves 4)

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Air-fryer temperature: 180°C

Cooking time: approximately 45 minutes


30 ml olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, seeded and sliced

1 red onion, halved and sliced lengthways

6-8 chicken thighs or mix of legs and thighs

45 ml cornflour

125 ml fruit chutney

125 ml mayonnaise

15 ml white wine vinegar

10 ml Dijon mustard

10 ml soy sauce

250 ml prepared chicken stock

250 ml couscous (use regular or pearl couscous)

50 ml fresh chopped parsley or coriander


Preheat the air fryer to 180°C. Drizzle half the oil over the peppers and onion and then place into the basket of the air fryer. Cook for 10 minutes, tossing halfway through the cooking time. Once cooked, remove from the air fryer and set aside.

Drizzle the remaining oil over the chicken pieces. Rub to coat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with cornflour so that the pieces are all coated.

Place the pieces of chicken into the basket of the air fryer and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the pieces over halfway through the cooking time.

Meanwhile, mix the chutney, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard and soy sauce together in a bowl. Remove the chicken pieces from the air fryer and toss in the mixture to coat.

Place a baking paper lining into the air fryer basket if you prefer, or place the chicken pieces directly into the basket. Cook for 15-20 minutes at 180°C, turning the pieces over and spooning any leftover chutney sauce over the pieces halfway through the cooking time. To check if the chicken is done, the juices should run clear when the meat is cut open.

Couscous: Pour the hot stock over the couscous and cover with a lid. Leave to soak. Once you are ready to serve, stir in the cooked peppers and onion and the herbs. Serve with the chicken.

Milk tart

Louisa Holst’s melktert. (Photo: Donna Lewis)

Here’s the air-fryer version of South Africa’s favourite tea-time treat.

(Serves 6-8)

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus refrigeration time

Air-fryer temperature: 160°C

Cooking time: approximately 60 minutes


1 roll ready-made shortcrust pastry


600 ml full-cream milk

2 cinnamon sticks

6 cardamom pods

90 g (100 ml) castor sugar

35 g (65 ml) cake flour

20 ml cornflour

Pinch of salt

40 g (45 ml) butter

3 large eggs

5 ml vanilla essence

Ground cinnamon or cinnamon sugar, to serve


Grease a 15-cm pie tin. Unroll the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and roll out lightly so it is a little thinner. Cut out a circle to line the pie tin, and large enough to allow a little excess pastry to hang over the sides slightly. Place the pastry into the pie dish and prick the base a few times with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the air fryer to 160°C. Put the pie tin into the basket and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the pastry is firm and a light golden colour. Remove from the air fryer and cool. Use a sharp serrated knife to trim off the excess pastry to leave a neat edge.

Filling: Heat the milk with the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. In a bowl, stir the sugar, flour, cornflour and a pinch of salt together and set aside. Bring the milk to the boil, then reduce the heat and add the sugar and flour mixture, whisking well to prevent lumps. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes until thickened. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Add the butter.

Whisk in the eggs and vanilla.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and cook in the preheated air fryer at 160°C for 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set, but still slightly wobbly. Set aside to cool.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve sprinkled with cinnamon or cinnamon sugar. DM/TGIFood

From The South African Air Fryer Cookbook, by Louisa Holst. (Human & Rousseau)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider