Do you get weak in the knees when you see every one eating French fries, fish and chips, and onion rings at a restaurant, and you can’t have any because of the cross contamination in a shared fryer? Do you dread cooking with oil, where splatters can mean ouchies, and clean up and waste of the oil is a pain?
Several friends had been urging me to consider purchasing an airfryer, and there was a problem in Mission Control. M said he didn’t want to get one more single-use appliance, and I don’t blame him one bit. Our kitchen has only so much room. “Why can’t you just fry whatever you want in oil?” he asked.
Good question. If wanted fried food in a restaurant, why would I want an airfryer at home? I could just safely fry that food at home in a vat of lard, right?
Oh so WRONG! There is another option.
We already know that eating a high process diet isn’t a healthy option. M was thinking that I would want to have a fried food on occasion, like once in a blue moon. Yet with my exercise volume continually increasing through the summer into a hundred mile trail running event, I need to think carefully on how to get nutrient dense, high calorie foods between training sessions. I start craving EVERYTHING — fat, carbs, protein – but I don’t want to rely on restaurants and the possibility of cross contamination. And I don’t want to cook everything in a lot of oil.
What would it be like to have spicy chicken drummettes and wings, sweet potato fries, even pork cutlet, with less oil, less time, and minimal cleanup? Better yet, could I have those foods and not see a change in my cholesterol level, which my doc has said has been good?
With a price drop on the Phillips Airfryer, I experimented with those three options.
Love That Airfryer, Uh-huh
The Phillips Airfryer operates somewhere between a hair dryer and a hot grill. There are two dials: the large bottom dial controls the amount of cook time, and the top dial sets the temperature. You place food on the square-shaped grill inside a removable drawer with handle, and hot air is able to circulate above and below the food.
Food cooks quickly and fairly evenly, yet the manufacturer’s recommendations are to stir or flip the food at least one time during the total cook time. Oil recommendations are for about 1/4 of the amount of oil you would normally use to shallow fry food; I have found that I can get away with even less or no oil, depending on what I am cooking.
Here are a few pictures three different chicken-based dishes I cooked in the airfryer:
Not pictured: sweet potato fries. I burned the first batch by having the heat on too high before flipping. The thinner and smaller the pieces, the easier it is to overcook or burn the food. Just because the airfryer is smaller than your oven does not mean it does not pack a wallop of heat in it.
But now that I know how fast sweet potato fries will cook, I can better estimate how quickly beet shreds, asparagus, and other vegetables will cook in the air fryer.
For those who enjoy fried tofu, pork cutlet with Panko, and Japanese tonkatsu and tempura, the air fryer could be used to add these foods to a balanced meal without pulling out the lard.
How Does It Work? And Why Use It Rather than Baking?
Given that we have access to several different ways to cook food (shallow fry, deep fry in oil, bake in a conventional oven, sous vide), I did a little reading about how air fryers work.
Basically, there are two ways food can be cooked. One is through caramelization, where high heat combined with the sugars in a food create the brown colors you see. An example of caramelization is when you take a torch to a creme brulee. An air fryer uses the Maillard method of cooking, where a lower temperature combined with the fan coating the food in a thin layer of oil allows for the frying of food without submersion in oil. While the air fryer is like a small oven, it does a great job in making the food crispy fried with 70 to 80 percent less oil. The cook time compared to a conventional oven is 20% less, likely due to the closeness of the heating element near the food.
Does this mean the frying quality of the air fryer is superior to submersed oil frying? That depends. If you do what I did, and you made sure the gluten free flour and egg wash was protected by a layer of gluten-free Pankco crumbs and oil pressed on the outside of the food using a spoon, you’ll have a nice crispy texture. Otherwise, the hot air circulating could actually blow off the outside coating. In the case of the black strap molasses sauce, I let the meat soak up the sauce, dripped off the excess, and then put it in the air fryer. Most excellent!
Clean Up (Because We Hate Messes)
I know most of us don’t enjoy clean up if it’s painful. We’d rather be able to toss a bit of aluminum foil away rather than scrub down a drip pan and a grill plate.
The grill inside the Phillips airfryer are tiny squares that can be rinsed in hot water to get most of the little pieces of food off, and a skinny bottle cleaner can be used to remove the rest. The drip tray is made of an easy-to-clean surface that makes wipe up fairly easy; just don’t let it cool and harden. If you need to, use warm water and mixture of baking soda and vinegar to remove any stuck-on food bits.
Finally, don’t be afraid to shop around. When I first started looking for an air fryer, the average cost started around $200. By shopping carefully, we were able to find one under $90 with free shipping. Sure, the newer models have some nifty features, but based on the mechanism of how they work, you can just focus on the core features and pick one with good value.
Disclaimer: the Phillips Airfryer pictured here was purchased by us. We did not receive a discount or promotion, nor were we asked by Phillips brand to write a review.