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Welcome to the future of frying

This week we’ve been diving into air-fryers (not literally, of course) – how they work, what they’re good for, and whether they’re useful for baking or heating our Dinner Ladies meals. 

WHY THEY’RE GOOD

From our research, it seems most people with young children LOVE the air-fryer and find it super useful. If you’ve run out of bread or don’t have time to make lunchbox sandwiches or fuss around making a plate of afterschool snacks, you can throw chicken nuggets or drumsticks into the air-fryer for just a few minutes and have a great crispy treat. 

Everyone told us how brilliant they are for reheating leftovers. Slices of pizza, pie or leftover roast vegies, that sometimes aren’t great the next day or are tricky to reheat deliciously, are perfect fodder for the fryer. 

And a lot of people who’ve been working at home and are bored of sandwiches and wraps have been enjoying schnitzels, pies, nuggets. Apparently, they come out of the air-fryer so delicious that you’ll find yourself eating them hot from the basket. (But is that a good thing, we ask??) 

WHAT YOU CAN COOK

If you would usually bake it, fry it or deep-fry it, you can cook it in the air-fryer. Anything that used to require a terrifying deep pan of burning oil on your benchtop, now just needs a tiny spray and 10 minutes in the air-fryer. You can reduce the fear factor, increase the health factor, and your house won’t smell like a fish and chippy either.  

The air-fryer uses a very powerful fan and high heat in a box around the size of a microwave that sits on your (heat-resistant) benchtop. What’s also exciting is that, like the microwave, the air-fryer doesn’t need preheating (some models might need a couple of minutes to preheat) and doesn’t heat up the kitchen on a hot Aussie summer day. We’ll raise a glass of crisp white to that! (Most models push just a little bit of heat out of the back so don’t have them pressed up against the wall.) 

Anything with crispy skin and juicy interior is perfect for cooking in the air-fryer – think chicken drumettes, schnitzels, nuggets (yes, the air-fryer is certainly a friend to chicken), fries, roast potatoes and other roast vegies. Apparently, baked potatoes from the air-fryer are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and just about perfect – as we love a baked spud with a tasty topping we find that almost reason enough to rush out and buy. No one mentioned making kale chips, but we reckon they’d be a goer!

And you can use it to bake cakes and cook scones, too. We haven’t gone there, but let us know if you do! 

MORE THINGS WE’VE LEARNT

Always read the manual before you start! Yes, we’re also the sort of people who are tempted to chuck the manual aside and rush in, assuming it will all be ‘intuitive’, but this is a different way of cooking and bits of the air-fryer become very hot. You need to know which bits! 

Size really does matter if you’re an air-fryer. You need room for the air to circulate around the food as it cooks. And, depending on how much you’re trying to cook, the smaller models will cook larger loads unevenly.  

Most models make a bit more noise than a microwave, but less than a washing machine. If noise in the kitchen is important to you, check out the reviews. 

Spray the basket with a little oil to stop food sticking. Or toss the food in a bowl with a little oil first. The oil creates the crispy finish and also helps seasoning and flavourings evenly coat the food. If you’re cooking something like bacon or chicken wings, with a high fat content, you won’t need to add oil. 

You can line the basket with a piece of foil to help lift the food out and keep the basket cleaner. Clean the basket right after you’ve used it – it’s easier, like all washing up! Check if your basket can go in the dishwasher. 

Most foods (we’re thinking fries and roasties here!) need tossing or turning once or twice during cooking. Pause the air-fryer at this point, or set the timer for half the cooking time so you don’t forget. 

Pat ‘damp’ food (salmon, chicken, vegies etc) dry with paper towel first so it doesn’t steam instead of crisping.

Once you get experienced, you’ll be able to adapt cookbook recipes to your air-fryer. In general, it cooks faster than an average oven. Decrease the stated temperature a little and halve the cooking time – you can check how it’s going at that point. 

OUR DINNER LADIES EXPERIMENT

We used the Philips Air Fryer Premium and it took just 3 minutes to heat up, which was pretty mind-blowing. 

We cooked a small Dinner Ladies lasagne, defrosted in the fridge first. Cooking time was 19 minutes (plus the 3 minutes to heat the fryer) and we set the temperature at 200. Also, we took out the basket for this one. We rested the lasagne for 10 minutes after cooking, as per the regular instructions, and the result was absolutely top-notch. 

Then we cooked a batch of defrosted Dinner Ladies chicken nuggets at 200. Because our fryer was fairly small, we cooked half the batch – so just 7 nuggets at a time. (If you have larger fryer, of course, you can whack them all in.) We sprayed them very lightly with oil, and they needed just 10 minutes to cook (plus the 3 minutes to heat the fryer). We cooked ours on the baking tray (that looks like a cooling rack) in the Philips model. Once again, the results were eat-straight-from-the-fryer delicious. 

Pick up some Dinner Ladies dishes worth giving a go in the air-fryer here.