by Jay Kitterman, consultant, Culinary Institute, Lincoln Land Community College
For my recent birthday, Carol purchased an air fryer, and I have enjoyed how versatile it is. Of course, she has also benefited, for I am now doing more cooking and she has enjoyed “most” of my efforts.
In case you do not know, an air fryer is normally a countertop appliance that uses convection heating to circulate hot air around the food. Some are larger, and newer built-in ranges include the air fryer feature.
I have the 5.8 Cosori and happy that I have their larger unit. Several manufacturers make air fryers, and the Cosori seemed to be one of the most popular. It has a rectangular basket, and a fan rapidly moves hot air around the food surrounding it in a similar way to food submerged in hot oil in a deep fryer. In the end, it works well and gives food that crispy fired texture without a lot of additional fat.
Most air fryers have a cooking basket with holes or slits like a deep fryer. This helps increase the surface area directly exposed to the hot air circulated by the fryer’s fan. Secondly, the air fryer’s small size allows for air to move around more rapidly. This means it preheats more quickly than a larger convection oven and has the safety features of not using hot oil while still producing a crispy product.
There are a couple of negatives. It is not for large, big batch cooking. If you stuff the basket too much, you will steam your food rather than crisp it. I purchased an accessory rack that allows me to cook on two levels. They can be a little noisy, similar to a hair dryer would be if blowing in a closed box.
Some items take a little longer. I tried scrambled eggs; they tasted great but took a long time to solidify. I recommend purchasing the special parchment paper made for your size air fryer with holes/slits; you will save on clean up time. Also helpful are silicone tongs, silicone spatulas and an oil mister. Remember to keep your oven mitts close by.
Many of the recipes require the use of a small amount of oil to be sprayed on the product being prepared. I checked with Charlyn Fargo Ware, SIU School of Medicine registered dietitian and adjunct instructor in the culinary program at Lincoln Land Community College. Avocado oil is the choice of many, and I asked her why? “Avocado oil’s mild taste and high smoke point make it a popular cooking oil. It is similar to olive oil in terms of nutritional value. And like extra-virgin olive oil, cold-pressed avocado oil is unrefined and retains some of the flavor and color of the fruit. It is a heart-healthy oil, high in oleic acid, an unsaturated fat and helpful in lowering blood pressure. Despite its many benefits, we have to remember it’s still a high-fat food.” I have been stocking up at Robert’s Seafood for the oil plus their fresh salmon that comes out great in the air fryer.
I am confident that air fryers were invented to cook French fries and chicken wings. They use a lot less oil and mess than frying in oil. Ketchup is always good for the fries, but while at it try a new sauce to dip them in. While air fryer fries may not be quite as deeply crunchy as their properly deep-fried cousins, they are nonetheless crisp, golden and satisfying. I am now purchasing russet potatoes by the bag.
One of my favorite items to make in the air fryer is a whole chicken. Preparation is very easy. I normally purchase a fresh four-pound chicken (much larger will not fit in my unit’s basket) at Country Market on Wabash. It only takes five to 10 minutes of prep, and then the air fryer will do all the work for the next 50 or so minutes. Ensure the cavity of the chicken is empty, rub the skin with olive oil, and sprinkle with your favorite rub seasoning. Place the chicken breast-side down into the air fryer basket. Turn the air fryer on to 370°F. Cook for 30 minutes, flip the chicken over and cook for an additional 25-30 minutes or until an instant thermometer reads 165 degrees.
The internet is full of recipes (my Cosori came with a small cookbook) and if your TV streams, you will find many chefs on “You Tube” with short air fryer instructional programs. Part of the fun has been experimenting with different dishes and as Julia Child said, “no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”