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Don’t be too chicken to learn new air fryer rules

Don’t be too chicken to learn new air fryer rules
(Photo: Lukas from Pixabay)

Half a year after starting to cook regularly in an air fryer, there are things I have learnt. This week a new lesson was added to the list.

I stuffed a chicken this week and roasted it in my Instant Vortex Plus 5.7 litre air fryer. I have a Kenwood kHealthyFRY TWIN air fryer too, with its two baskets, and though I did once roast a very small chicken in one of its baskets, the size was not ideal, even for a small bird. It cooked, but there wasn’t enough space around the chicken for airflow. Which was another of my early lessons.

Air fryers differ in size and capacity, and after half a year of cooking in one (okay, two) I have come to the conviction that it is better to buy larger than smaller, especially if cooking for more than one. The smaller air fryers are more suitable for single people. If you have a relative living alone, for instance, a small air fryer would make a lovely gift.

It turns out that even my Instant Vortex Plus with its much bigger basket is not always big enough for everything I want to cook. But plans can be made, sometimes.

This was a standard-sized chicken, neither too small nor overly large. I stuffed it after making a mushroom stuffing, basted it and it went into the preheated machine. I was in another room when I detected an acrid smell coming from the kitchen. I darted through and opened the drawer (you can do this, by the way, and the machine will just pick up from where it left off when you close it again) to find that a part of the skin of the bird had touched the element above the basket and burnt.

It was not the end of the world, it turned out. All I needed to do was use my palm to push the bird down a bit at the top of the breasts, causing the stuffing inside to flatten out. Pushing the drawer closed again, I found that this had fixed the problem.

But I did a second thing too, after the first period of cooking, during which the skin browned very nicely.

I was out of a roll of tin foil, but in a cupboard, I had a foil loaf tin. This I flattened out and placed on top of the bird for the remainder of the cook. It did the trick of protecting the chicken while still allowing cooking to continue.

You’ll find the recipe for that chicken dish here, and just remember to be sure to flatten the bird a little once you’ve stuffed it. Some smaller air fryers will of course be unsuitable for this recipe.

Here are five more things to watch out for.

Protect your worktop surface

Air fryers get seriously hot and over time risk damaging the surface of whatever is underneath them. Experts advise you to place them on a board or rack to protect them. I have not (yet) experienced this, but sound advice is worth listening to. Please let me know at [email protected] if you have experienced this and what type of surface it was.

Don’t overcrowd the basket

This is a rule that applies to many types of cooking, whether potato chips deep fried in oil on the stove top, battered fish or prawns frying in hot oil, or pieces of meat stir-frying in a hot wok. If cooking potato chips in an air fryer, for instance, rather cook them in batches. Overcrowding will cause some elements not to cook properly while those at the base and surface (in direct contact with heat or hot air) will cook better. Not overcrowding makes for a more balanced cook.

Spray and coat

Make sure every part of what’s in the air fryer is either sprayed or coated lightly with oil or melted butter. Don’t presume that merely spraying food with a can of oil spray will always be enough to cook something properly. Food needs fat to cook, and fat needs heat if it is to do its job. You can toss food in oil or melted butter to coat, shake off the excess, and put them in the preheated machine to cook.

Pat wet food dry before cooking

Wet food may not cook correctly. A piece of meat such as a slab of pork belly will be wet when unpacked. It needs to be patted dry before being seasoned, lightly oiled and placed in the air fryer to cook. If still wet, it will braise, which is not a function of an air fryer.

Do preheat your machine, it’s a mistake not to

Ignoring advice to preheat your air fryer before starting to cook in it is a mistake. Some people don’t bother at all. But any appliance in which we cook food needs to be preheated, if things are to cook properly in it. So rather preheat, even for longer than advised, than not at all. DM

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