EAT: the air fryer experiments

Hello naughty children, it's science time! 
...By which I mean, I treated myself to an air fryer in the sales after Christmas, and instead of reacting like a normal human, I immediately started planning out a very literal hunger games scenario to see what I could do with it. Air fryers are super popular at the moment and I keep seeing people raving about them, so my expectations were high. 

Also, today's food post is sponsored by the colour beige. I didn't plan to make only beige food, that's just how it turned out. So here goes.

First thoughts:

First of all, this thing is BIG (that’s what she said). I’d thought it would have to go on top of the kitchen cupboards, but it actually didn’t fit and sat on the counter for weeks until I could figure something out (receiving a pass-agg note from my housemate in the process that it couldn’t live there indefinitely. I KNEW THAT, OKAY, I wasn’t like, ‘oooh, it’s found its Forever Home!’) (love you, S). So, that’s something to bear in mind.

Air fryers are sort of marketed as being an alternative to deep-frying, and it was deep-fried shit I was after, in an attempt to pacify the Mr. Hyde side of my personality that wants to eat nothing but sweet potato taquitos and Five Guys’ fries. Having done some reading, the way these work - air convection - is more like a faster, crispier oven, so obviously it’s not going to be exactly the same, but I figured I’d start big and see what was possible. So my first experiment here was making sweet potato and aubergine tempura, with a beer batter.

Experiment #1:

This was my first time using the machine, and considering I had been quite intimidated by its size (that’s what she... okay, I’ll stop) once I got started it was actually pretty straightforward to get all the bits in place and use. Also, I got to drink the remaining half can of the beer I’d used in my tempura batter, so you can imagine I was pretty cheerful.

Yes, that was my breakfast. Yes, it was 2pm and I was wearing a onesie with feet. This is how I live. No further questions.

I did make mistakes. First of all, I definitely didn’t space out the vegetable pieces enough in my first batch, meaning that they didn’t crisp up like I’d expected. Batch 2 came out much better, but I gave some of the soggy ones another ride in the fryer and they cheered up a bit. I also should have coated the racks with oil because DANG everything wanted to stick to those. Generally, I was a little frugal with the oil (in a spray bottle it’s really hard to tell how much to use) but whatevs.

HOWEVER, here’s what I ended up with.

I mean. It’s, like... tempura adjacent? You can see in the photos how some are better than others due to the above, but I also ate a whole bunch before I even got to the photo stage, so it didn’t taste too bad. That said, it really wasn’t what I’d hoped for - much heavier and more like they’d been oven-baked, which is a uniquely weird tempura eating experience. In retrospect I should have expected an outcome along these lines, but I think my head had been turned by the talk of air frying being so similar to deep-frying in output. First lesson: it isn’t. Or at least, there are limits to what will translate across.

Experiment two, therefore, was a direct comparison between the air fryer and our oven. At this point, I’m really hoping for a tangible difference between the two, to justify having this giant pot on the counter. Otherwise I am deeply afraid my housemate will murder and air fry me.

Experiment #2:
 (air fried on the left side of the board in both pictures)

[pounding the table] CHIPS CHIPS CHIPS CHIPS!!!!

So, I did two batches of these - one of skinny fries and one of chunky chips - to see what, if any, difference it made to the texture. The skinny fries came out first, and honestly my heart sank a little looking at them cause the oven baked ones did look superior to me. The air fried ones sort of puff up on the surface, but I did expect them to be equally crispy if not crispier. 

Spoiler alert: they were not. I even got S to do a blind taste test, and she - like me - preferred the oven baked ones. The air fried batch were honestly kind of soggy? Which was NOT what I expected. I’d have said ordinarily that they needed a higher temperature or a bit longer, but they were at the same temperature and cooking time as the oven (when actually according to the entire internet they should have required less time). Maybe I didn’t preheat it long enough?

S did say she thought the air fried ones were fluffier on the inside, but as they were skinny fries it was hard to really tell soooo, time to r e l e a s e  t h e  c h u n k.

-Which incidentally is what I shout drunkenly when I head out for a night on the town.

Just kidding, I don’t go outside.

(air fried on left, oven baked on right)

Just to muddy the waters, the chunky chips DID cook significantly faster in the air fryer, so like, maybe I am the problem. I don’t know, now I’m second guessing myself. So that’s why they’re a little burnt. Also, you should know that I also burnt my finger for a second time on the air fryer at this point, and I know that if I were a true scientist this would not affect my careful objectivity, but I am NOT a true scientist, I am a petty little goblin who likes to hold grudges, so you better believe I’m factoring this in.

There was a lot less of a difference between the chunky chips than I’d found in the skinny fries - again, the air fried ones seemed to be fluffier on the inside and puffier on the outside, and this time S preferred them to the oven baked version. I still preferred oven baked though - they were just crispier and had more flavour (OKAY, THE FLAVOUR IS THE OIL I GUESS, SHUT UP). So... a relative success, but I really didn’t feel the air fryer was paying its way yet.

Experiment #3!

For this I wanted to bring actual deep frying into the experimental mix, although I felt I knew what the outcome would be. I used these UTTERLY BANGING sesame balls that I bought frozen from an Asian supermarket in Camden (they’re related to one of my favourite things to get at kaitenzushi in Japan, although those have a red bean centre and these have peanut butter in the middle). They’re about seven minutes to deep fry, but took longer to air fry/oven bake.

Like, these babies are designed to be deep fried, but unlike the tempura there isn’t a loose batter or anything, so they felt like a good subject for direct comparison. I feel dumb now for thinking it, but I really did order this air fryer thinking it would be a deep frying alternative, so although my spirit was kind of crushed at this point I needed to finish the tests.

(l-r: air fried, oven baked, deep fried)

Predictably, there is no contest between a deep fried sesame-mochi-peanut ball, and an air fried sesame-mochi-peanut ball. People deep fry shit cause it makes it delicious. Like, what did anyone expect. That said, I couldn’t distinguish between the air fried and oven baked balls, to the point I’m not 100% confident I’ve labeled these photos correctly. They’re the same. Done.

  1. I’m gonna die mad about buying this huge counter-space-swallowing machine and then learning it does nothing special.
  2. Air frying really isn’t an alternative to deep frying. I mean, I suppose it’s an alternative in the same way ‘driving to Brighton’ or ‘tidying your sock drawer’ is an alternative to deep frying, in that it isn’t at all like deep frying.
  3. It IS an alternative to oven baking. If you don’t have an oven, it may even be more space efficient for you. But I do have an oven, and that oven makes good chips, so like, what am I even doing? It’s indistinguishable, or it’s LESS GOOD.
  4. Also this burn on my finger really hurts.
  5. For sale: air fryer, barely used.


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