THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Doin’ a q check: testing out the air fryer

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALI recently did something I almost never do. I mean, if the Mrs. is watching the flat screen and it happens to be on, I might briefly glimpse at what’s being sold. I’d then either return to the computer or more likely change the station if she abandons it. But I won’t continue to view it if she isn’t present. Until that day found me watching QVC.

Perhaps it was because Emeril was  presenting his Pro Plus AirFryer, or maybe it was that I had already been eyeing an air fryer at Williams-Sonoma. But I did pull the trigger that day.

The Air Fryer

I will admit it. I love my French fries — dipped in any type of mayonnaise-based sauce. Yes, deep fried in oil, they’re not the healthiest thing to cook or consume. The process perhaps causes some starch to convert to acrylamides, a known carcinogen. Then I dip them in fat-laden mayonnaise. And I don’t just consume a small portion, I only stop when I’ve consumed every last morsel. So to lessen the guilt, I’ve always looked at air fryers as an alternative to at least lower the fat burden. And for the past several months, I’ve had my eye on those Philips Airfryers at Williams-Sonoma, which range from $199 to $299 and seem to have very good reviews.

But an air fryer is another kitchen appliance, and the thought of another appliance that potentially could end up in the appliance graveyard just taking up valuable kitchen space had me simply looking at it rather than actually planning on purchasing it. Then Emeril appeared on QVC, showing the versatility of his air fryer. He was not just frying, but roasting and baking too. And since it was the special of the day, there was another $15 off the special price of $99.95, plus free shipping just for the day. Well, even at $99.95, that’s half the price of the Philips model, and it was now down to $84.95. Of course, nothing ships to the 50th for free. Even Amazon now either charges for shipping large items to Hawai‘i or doesn’t even ship at all. But in the interest of seeing what exorbitant shipping charges I would have to face, I placed air fryer in my online basket and proceeded with the order. What? Free shipping! For just $84.95 plus tax? Sold.

Frying with Air

An air fryer basically contains a quick heating element that uses a fan to continually envelope the food within with super-heated air. Think of it as a small oven attached to a Vornado fan. Because the air quickly moves air and cooking liquids (oil) continuously, only a small amount of oil is needed to “fry” the food. And if frying isn’t the desired cooking method, the fan turns the fryer into a super convection oven so you can also roast or bake.

Brussel sprouts. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Brussel sprouts. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Therefore, the Brussels sprouts or cauliflower I previously roasted at 400 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes can now be finished in the air fryer at just 20 to 25 minutes, probably using a lot less electricity to accomplish the same process.

Frying Results

The first thing that I’ll admit is that the appearance of your cooked fries won’t look anything like those found at the Golden Arches or those pommes frites served with your steak frites at your neighborhood bistro. To get that uniform golden brown requires an oil hot tub. But both the Mrs. and I agreed that the potato flavor, whether the potatoes were frenched or wedged had a lot more pronounced potato flavor cooked in the air fryer. It really brought out the sweetness and potato flavors compared to other oil fried applications. And using just about one tablespoon of oil to accomplish this made consuming the dish that much more guilt free with every bite.

We then sampled some air fried Brussels sprouts, which I normally would oven roast after tossing them with olive oil, salt and pepper. However, oven roasting takes about 30 minutes or longer while the air fryer got them done in about 20 minutes,  even crisping the outer leaves with a fried-like consistency. I also air fried frozen breaded calamari rings along with criss-cut fries, which again would take at least 30 minutes in a regular oven, but were nice and crispy after 20 minutes in the air fryer.

Finally, since the air fryer is also advertised as a “baker,” I made a loaf of banana bread, which almost was a failure, not because of the device, but because the “chef” filled the pan a wee bit too much. This resulted in a little spillage that thankfully didn’t result in a total mess. In defense of the “chef,” most recipes for sweetbreads are for your standard 9” x 4” loaf pan while the air fryer only accommodates a 7” x 2 1/2” pan. So I tried pushing the limit of the smaller pan …

Air Fryer Limitations

Other than the fact that you’ll now have an extra kitchen appliance that might potentially end up in the kitchen appliance “graveyard,” my baking fiasco highlighted the one limitation of this or any other air fryer — size constraints. While a 7” x 2 1/2” sweetbread might be the perfect size for the Mrs. and myself (to prevent overconsumption of sweets), it’s hardly enough for a family of four or more. And again, while the serving of fries or potato wedges provided a more-than-adequate serving for the two of us, you probably would need a second batch to sate your family. And purchasing an air fryer doesn’t mean you’ll be gaining any extra kitchen space because it’s not like you’ll be dumping your oven or cooktop. But  I personally think that it’s found a permanent place in the Tatsumoto kitchen beside the microwave, single cup coffee maker and pressure/slow cooker. OK, maybe the Ninja blender wasn’t a great idea …

But was it Actually a Good Buy?

While this purchase was as close to an impulse purchase as it gets for me, I still did a quick Internet search, looking for any consumer or expert review for that item. There are several sites that list the best air fryers in 2016, and guess what? Models made by Good Cooking, GoWise or Smart Health are on several of these lists and these models all suspiciously look like the model with the Emeril Lagasse name on it in my kitchen. This stands to reason since manufacturers often license their products to multiple companies, with sellers simply relabeling or changing minor details like the color or “bling” parts with chrome. But the internal mechanism and device itself is basically the same. Like that secret — but not really secret — fact that most store label batteries are made by Duracell or Eveready.

French fries. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

French fries. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

So while this device may not be the most practical device for a large family or a family who doesn’t inhale pommes frites like the Tatsumotos, I believe it’s found a place in our kitchen. Healthier French fries? We’re there! Healthier “fried” Brussel sprouts? We’re double there!

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. Do French Fries need blanching or is it fried once and done.

  2. We’ve just got one and decided to go for the Phillips XL. Really impressed with it so far although the only think we’ve used it for so far is french fries.

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