Air fryers: a miracle kitchen must-have or just a load of hot air? (2023)

EUI've never been catfished by an appliance before, but I would always be vulnerable to the fryer's promise: "great fries - just add air." “Next level amazing,” gasped one Instagrammer. Another called it “a total game changer when it comes to cooking,” while Gordon Ramsay claimed the results are comparable to eating“cooked in oil, but [the fryer] retains the juice and the flavor is extraordinary”.

It's true that Ramsay was starring in a Philips Airfryer ad at the time. But if something seems too good to be true, it usually is:Philips was reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authorityin 2012 for the "just add air" slogan, as the fine print specified that oil was needed to produce the golden, crispy fries seen on screen (Philips now claims, more modestly, that its product requires «90% less fat»). To be honest, this wasn't a deal breaker for me. Anything that significantly reduces the liters of oil needed for frying is still an attractive prospect.

Although air fryers have been around for over a decade,Google Trends data shows a surprising increase in interest in 2020, with few signs of slowing down.John Lewis sales increased by 400% in 2021. In January, the New York Times dedicated 1,800 words to the researchHow the air fryer ‘entered the heart of America’, while Telegraaf mentioned this“the must-have kitchen gadget you didn’t know you needed”.

However, air fryer technology is nothing new. It's basically a countertop convection oven. Despite the name, it doesn’t “fry” things. It bakes, and bakes quickly, because, like all ovens, it is a well-insulated container – which heats up quickly for its size and then cooks quickly thanks to the presence of an extra-powerful and well-placed container. fan to push out this heat.

The elegant and blackAirfryer Ninja Max(£149.99) I Borrow, looks reassuringly space-age with its “sharp ultimate technology” and “super-fast airflow”. It's about the same size as the little microwave I never had room for, but this is the future of cooking so I'm making the space. (Clare Andrews, the blocking conversion behind thisde Air Fryer UK-blog, recommends you do some research: “They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are much larger than others, some look more elegant. It's all about balancing your needs and preferences.')

Feeling like I need to start over in the kitchen, I put myself in the capable hands of nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche, whoseAir Fryer Cookbook(Ryland Peters & Small, £16.99) promises that an all-day breakfast “might be the laziest meal… you can make in the frying pan!”

I heat the Ninja to 180 degrees Celsius, which takes three minutes, and place the tomatoes on the greased cutting board with a non-stick interior. After three minutes I add bacon, black pudding (Tschiesche asks for mushrooms, but she's a nutritionist and I'm not) and a whole egg, and close the drawer while I make tea and toast.

To my surprise, in less than 15 minutes I have a perfectly soft boiled egg, a perfectly cooked tomato, crispy bacon and cooked black pudding... and just one pan to wash.

One of the best things about my new gadget is how easy it is to play with; It would be great for students or children taking their first steps into independent cooking. An air fryer cheesecake recipe recently went viral. I was informed about the magic of air fryer cheese toasties, corn on the cob, pakoras and reheated pizza.Correspondents report good resultswith everything fromThe ham hookto flourless chocolate cake; Someone's mother in Sri Lanka uses it to cook vada (crispy snacks that are often fried) and reports “total success without all the greasiness.” Tschiesche loves it because it makes cooking fish so easyby Manchester chef Zosima Fulwell, who hosted her Christmas dinner, says: “It practically replaced my oven.”

Four days later, I think I'm the size of an air fryer. Notable wins include a whole (small) red mullet cooked without a trace of fish, crispy chickpeas and some of thethe tastiest Brussels sprouts I've ever eaten. Misses include tough calamari and tofu with the texture of a pool float. Frozen chips are crispier than their oven-baked counterparts – and they're ready in half the time. I can also bake a frozen ball of cookie dough in 15 minutes, which makes the air fryer a potentially dangerous object to have around.

Air fryers: a miracle kitchen must-have or just a load of hot air? (1)

Best of all, the quick cooking times mean I don't feel guilty putting the Ninja to work with small amounts of food. Most air fryers run at significantly lower power than an average oven. But when I ask Dr. Christian Reynolds, senior lecturer at the Center forfoodIf City, University of London's policy is a good choice for those of us trying to save energy (that is, pretty much everyone), he says the situation is nuanced: “It depends on how many people we feed. For individuals, they can be more energy efficient, but it really depends on your lifestyle.”

In other words, because they don't hold as much food as a large oven, you may have to run them twice – once for the fries, for example, and again for the fries – so you may not save much money. He calculates that it would cost me 9 cents to cook a baked potato in the skillet and 16 cents to do it in the oven. For maximum energy efficiency, he recommends microwaving the potato first (about 0.26p) and then finishing it in the fryer to crisp up the skin.

Award-winning food writer Melissa Thompsonsays he usually uses the fryer to heat things up. However, unlike an air fryer, it is not capable of “sealing something, cooking the inside, and then browning the outside,” she adds. “To me, they're like a Thermomix [a sophisticated multifunctional food processor much loved by chefs] – you have to start with them before buying other appliances, otherwise you'll just double up.”

I can confirm this after trying themThompson's Fried Chips Are Indeed “As Good As Fried Chips”, but I would also say from experience that fried chicken wings will probably never reach the perfect doneness. And really, if you're going to eat fried chicken, you better make really good fried chicken.

I will say goodbye to the Ninja with sadness. I can see it being very useful for all sorts of things - even if the only thing I wouldn't really use it for is frying. But it's a delicious boiled egg.


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