Most of the gadgets in my batterie de cuisine are pretty successful. The Vitamix and Magimix that we’ve had for years live on the worktop and get exercised frequently. More recent acquisitions like the Assistent, the JO Home Cooker, and the Sansaire sous vide machine are all kept within easy reach. So perhaps I can be forgiven the occasional failure.
Step forward the Philips Airfryer. This machine promises to dry-fry all sorts of things, from potato chips (obviously) to aubergine slices, steaks, and even to bake cakes. One the box there’s a mouth-watering picture of beautiful home-cooked fries emerging from the cooking drawer.
I’m not so naive as to expect results that match the promotional pictures, but I’d rather hoped for better than this!
Whatever you do, and I won’t go through the tedious experimentation with different potatoes and different forms of prep, you get at best an unevenly cooked and rather tough-skinned result. They’re eatable, and if you were looking for positives you could say that you could taste the potato rather better without the usual coating of oil, but they’re not a high treat.
On the other hand, if you buy frozen oven chips from the supermarket, they come out beautifully!
If we normally dined in front of the television on breaded scampi and oven chips, the Airfryer would be great. But we don’t. So we needed to seek out what (if anything) it could do well and/or efficiently.
An obvious candidate is grilled chicken. These chicken thighs were sprayed with a tiny amount of oil, then rolled in seasoned flour. They came out very nicely, and were perfectly juicy and tender, and crispy on the outside.
So a success, but not noticeably better or quicker than using the oven or the grill. Still, we had at least scored a draw.
Then, inspiration struck. It’s been years since we attempted home-made falafels. Home-made from the ground up, I mean, not from a packet mix. Even the packet ones can be a nightmare to fry, since too dry a mixture and they break up, and too wet leaves them heavy and unappetising. And, of course, they are highly calorific. I always tend to think that vegetarian must equal healthy, but it isn’t always so!
Anyway, an initial experiment with a packet mix was pretty good, so we used Tori Avey’s recipe here. Before putting them in the Airfryer, we sprayed them with a little oil, then rolled them in breadcrumbs. Success!
Crispy outside, and perfectly soft and spicy inside. They’re not quite the same as the traditional fried article, but tasty nonetheless. At last, a modest win for the Airfryer.
It’ll do other things, too, like roast a few cloves of garlic in a hurry
or roast a pepper or an aubergine ready for further processing, albeit still not very evenly cooked. It doesn’t add up to something that will earn its keep.
I had a bit of a play to see if I could find out why the surface of so many foods is blotchy and uneven, in spite of frequently shaking the basket and turning the food over.
So I set the machine to the four major temperatures on the dial: 80C, 120C, 160C, and 200C. Using a temperature probe (tested against a calibrated source at 0C and 100C, so I’m confident that it’s reading pretty true if not exactly so), I watched the Airfryer for several cycles to see at what temperatures it switched on and off, and what the high and low temperatures of the cycle were.
Here’s the setup. Tests were done on the temperature at the bottom of the basket in an empty fryer.
And here are the results:
The thermostat operated at a fairly accurate temperature, although it tended to rise the higher the setting. It switched at 81C at an 80C setting (well within the accuracy of the setting dial), and at 208C at 200C setting. That’s pretty good.
What wasn’t so good was the overshoot and undershoot. When the thermostat switched off, the heating element was still glowing hot. The airflow over the still-hot element took the temperature up typically by a further 10C. But as the temperature fell, the element didn’t switch on again until typically a whopping 20C below the set temperature, and before the element could heat up again, typically fell a further 2C or 3C. At the upper temperature settings, that means a huge 40C variation in temperature.
Unlike an oven, where the thermal capacity of the oven walls evens out the inevitable switchback effect of the thermostat, or a hot oil fryer where the oil performs the same function, the Airfryer has no such cushion, and so the food is subjected to blasts of overheat followed by a period of cooling to well below the set temperature. Hence, I suspect, the patchy cooking.
I can feel an eBay sale coming on.
Makes good toasted sarnies, though.