Air fryers: What can you fry?
We share a few crazy things you can fry in an air fryer.
Those of you lucky people who received an air fryer from Santa may well be wondering what the hell you should do with this strange contraption. Our resident air fryer obsessive, Bryan Wall, shares a few of the crazy things you can do with this marvel of our modern age.
What is an air fryer?
First, a recap: An air fryer is the current must-have kitchen gadget. But really, it’s no more than a compact fan oven.
A lot of the buzz around air fryers relates to how healthy they are to cook with, due to the reduced amount of oil needed to create crispy foods. But the same would be true of cooking in a normal oven on the fan setting. It would be more accurate to call them air bakers.
However, air fryers are good for cooking small batches of food, so they’re ideal for smaller households. An air fryer is also going to be more energy efficient than your oven, due to the smaller capacity.
The internet is awash with ideas of things to do in your air fryer. Here are some of the more interesting ones I’ve trialled.
Eggs, eggs and more eggs
The first thing that often comes to mind with the word ‘fried’ is a fried egg. So I wondered if you could fry an egg in an air fryer. And then I wondered if you could poach, scramble or even boil an egg in one.
I purchased some small, non-stick pie tins to ‘fry’ my egg. I sprayed some oil into one of the tins and popped it into the air fryer to preheat, for 5 minutes. At this point I learned one of the quirks of the air fryer: If you stick anything lightweight in one, the power of the fan will blow said object around inside. A tad offputting hearing the pan rattling around, to say the least. So I wedged the pan in with a heavier ramekin.
Once the preheat was completed, in went the egg into the pan and back into the fryer for about 3 minutes on a high heat (around 190°C). Erin here at Consumer NZ also had the brainwave of putting a muffin in at the same time to toast, as there was space. Frying and toasting in the same device at the same time!
The resulting fried egg was pretty good and the companion muffin toasted nicely too. The egg does get cooked more on top, unlike a traditional pan-fried egg, which tends to cook from the bottom up, so you do end up with an egg that doesn’t look as nice. But it tasted good and the extra crispiness was pleasant.
I’m not sure it’s as good as the traditional method, but for one person wanting a fried egg with a muffin, it’s a nice, easy option. Chuck in a rasher of bacon and hash brown for the ultimate air-fried brekkie muffin.
Poaching an egg successfully is quite a tricky task, I find – making sure the white is cooked but the yolk is still runny. Would the air fryer make this easier?
The recipe I used suggested using 3 tablespoons of water in a ramekin but I decided to use 4, because 3 didn’t seem quite enough to submerge the egg.
Then it’s a similar process to frying: Preheat the water first, crack the egg and back into the air fryer it goes, for about 5 minutes.
This first attempt came out with an overcooked yolk and crispy top, as there wasn’t enough water. OK, it tasted like a poached egg, but otherwise I’d have to mark it a fail.
I decided to go rogue and just fill the ramekin half with water to make sure the egg was fully submerged for the next attempt. This was an abysmal failure – what emerged was a watery egg soup.
One final attempt used 5 tablespoons of water, but this was still overcooked. Erin kindly commented it was “still edible”. At this point I decided I’d done enough poaching. After all, there’s a national egg shortage and I still had to boil and scramble.
I will conclude that poached eggs are no easier to do in an air fryer than conventionally.
I used the pie tins that I’d used for the scrambled egg trial.
Preheat a little oil, whisk an egg with some milk, salt and pepper, and then pour into the pan. Cook at a lower heat, 150°C, regularly checking and stirring with a silicon spatula.
This is the main problem with cooking eggs in the air fryer. You just can’t see how they are cooking and you constantly have to keep opening the unit to check, which is a real pain. The scrambled eggs did come out well though, due to my diligence.
Can you really boil an egg without any water? Well yes you can, in an air fryer. Just preheat to 120°C for 5 minutes, then pop the eggs straight into the basket to cook (about 8 minutes for soft-boiled).
The eggs do rattle around inside like a couple of angry hornets, but luckily mine didn’t break.
They came out perfect, but took about 13 minutes with the preheating, so not particularly quick.
All this boiling, scrambling and frying was egghausting, so I decided to get myself into a pickle. We’d been testing jar-opening devices here at Consumer NZ and had 10 large jars of pickled gherkins left over. Now what should we do with those? I know, let’s air fry them!
The gherkins were sliced lengthways, patted dry with a paper towel, coated in a flour and garlic powder mix, dipped into an egg mix, then coated in panko breadcrumbs. Then into the air fryer for 5-10 minutes, until brown and crispy. Cooked in batches, so quite a lot of effort.
The result was great (if you like gherkins). They need to be eaten hot, otherwise they tend to go a bit soggy. Served with a dip of your choice (spicy is good). They’d make a great party snack if you can be bothered with all the prep!
I will always remember my late Nan’s plain scones served with a dusting of flour and washed down with a good strong cup of tea, served in a bone china cup. Simple and effective nourishment for a hungry child.
Could the air fryer deliver a similar experience?
I’m not sure what Nan’s recipe was, so I randomly chose one from online. Flour, butter, baking powder, milk and some sugar. Mix and shape into four scones. Preheat the air fryer to 185°C and then bake for about 10 minutes.
I learnt a valuable lesson while preheating for these scones. You need to use some baking paper to line the air fryer basket, but don’t do as I did and put the paper in during preheat! The fan blew the paper up onto the element and started to burn it. Luckily I noticed an odd aroma and quickly realised my mistake.
Take two, with the paper inserted at the same time as the scones, avoided burning down the office. And the resulting scones came out well: A little crispy on the outside (maybe a smidgeon overcooked), slightly crumbly and dry, but still tasty with some butter.
Not quite up to Nan’s standard but not bad for a first effort either. However, four scones just aren’t enough. I can easily devour two or three, so I think scones are best left for the standard oven, where you can make a decent batch in one go.
That made me realise a good use for the air fryer: It’s a great device for trialling recipes before you scale them up. Maybe useful for budding chefs to try out flavour combinations?
And now for dessert
The Scottish are famous for their culinary expertise in the art of deep frying any food on the planet. Deep-fried pizza, haggis, cheeseburgers and, best of all, the deep-fried Mars bar.
Could this be done in the air fryer? Of course it can (kind of). You aren’t supposed to be able to cook anything with a wet batter in the air fryer, because the batter will just drip off into the bottom of the unit and likely get blown around and make one hell of a mess. But you can crumb foods or use pastry to get similar results.
This was a very simple recipe – Mars bars, frozen flaky puff pastry and a little milk to brown the outside. I did a variety of wrapping styles, including a Cornish pasty style. Then into the air fryer at 200°C for about 8 minutes, or until browned.
Now I’ll admit the idea of a deep-fried Mars bar makes me feel a little queasy. I’ve never had the pleasure of trying one in Scotland, and I wasn’t all that keen on trying the air-fried version.
The website I got the idea from stated: “This 10-minute air-fried Mars bar recipe will change your life forever!” Quite a bold statement, but actually not too far from the truth. They were fantastic, especially with a little ice cream that was left over from a recent Consumer taste test. Colleagues who shared my trepidation commented on how good they tasted.
You need to eat them hot before the chocolate bar solidifies. And be careful – the contents can be quite thermonuclear to start with.
But they are a great quick and easy dessert. You could use a different bar if you aren’t a Mars fan, and they would be great for kids to prepare at a party too.
Finally I have found a reason to own an air fryer.
And for the encore ...
Huh? I hear you say – you’ve just told us that batter doesn’t work in an air fryer. Well I did a bit more digging and found a couple of recipes for battered, air-fried fish. How cool would it be to make fish and chip shop-style battered fish at home but without the need for deep frying in fat?
The secret is to make a thicker batter, and coat it in flour afterwards. This stops it dripping and getting flung around inside. It’s also important to get thick pieces of fish so they aren’t overcooked.
The batter mix was flour, cornflour and baking soda combined with a beaten egg and about half a bottle of beer. After battering the pieces of fish, they are coated in a seasoned flour mix, both sides are sprayed with oil, and then fried in a well-oiled air fryer basket at 200°C for about 12 minutes.
The batter mix is horrifically gloopy and sticky, but it does adhere well to the fish (and your fingers).
My cooked pieces resembled scones or Cornish pasties more than battered fish, but they actually tasted pretty good.
I had overcooked the fish a little and the batter needed more seasoning, but for a first effort it wasn’t bad at all. The pieces did stick to the pan and some lost their bottoms, so it would probably be an idea to use a silicon mat or greaseproof paper, but then you might end up with a soggy bottom – unless you turn the fish during cooking.
Did it taste like the genuine article from a fish and chip shop? Not really. But it wasn’t that far off, and was crisp and suprisingly not stodgy, as one might expect.
So there we have it, an air fryer can actually fry! I stand corrected.
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