Delicious fried fries crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and made with little or no oil sounds like an impossible dream.
But thanks to airfryers — countertop machines that cook by rapidly circulating hot air — it’s possible to mimic the effect of fried foods with far fewer calories and a fraction of the fat.
The latest machines reduce fat by as much as 80 percent, with the effect of cutting calories almost in half. For example, a serving of homemade potato chips cooked in a deep-fat fryer provides about 330 calories and contains 11 grams of fat. The same chips cooked in an air fryer with a tablespoon of oil come out at 170 calories and just three grams of fat.
In fact, they won’t make your kitchen smell like a chippy. The smell is similar to that of a standard oven rather than the overwhelmingly greasy pong of a deep fryer.
Claudia Connell gives verdict on six of the best airfryers on sale in the UK – including Philips Turbostar Premium airfryer (pictured)
Although the gadgets have been around for years, they have become extremely popular in the past 12 months. In their annual consumer report published this month, John Lewis revealed that air fryer sales are up 400 percent – with lockdown and our desire to experiment more in the kitchen.
But can these gadgets live up to their promise? Here I put six to the test…
BRILLIANT BUT COMPLETE
Philips Turbostar Premium Air Fryer, £181.35, amazon.co.uk
This model cooks enough for four servings, is large and bulky and takes up a lot of counter or cupboard space. The instructions are pretty much useless and I had to watch a YouTube video to make sure how to operate it. The machine has two dials — one for temperature, one for time. The recipe book is not very inspiring, but you can download an app with more adventurous ones.
CHIP TEST: I use frozen chips, fill the generously deep compartment and don’t add any oil. As with all airfryers, frozen chips don’t need oil, but homemade chips do.
I set the temperature to 180C, the timer to 12 minutes (as per the booklet) and step back to wait for the magic to happen. The machine makes a buzzing sound and halfway through I pull out the box by the handle and shake it. Although the chips look cooked, I decide to give them another minute for extra crunch.
If I bite into it, I’m in chip heaven. They are perfectly cooked in half the time it takes in the oven. And they have that fried taste without using oil. What kind of witchcraft is this?
SAUSAGE: Because the basket is so large, it can easily fit six Lincolnshire sausages. I set the timer for 16 minutes and while I have no doubt they will cook, will they brown? Halfway through, the answer is ‘yes’. They were hot, sizzling and evenly browned when I took them out. 4/5
CHEAP AS CHIPS
Salter 4.5 liter digital air fryer, £59.99, salter housewares.co.uk
Claudia said the Salter 4.5 liter digital air fryer (pictured) cooked her chips perfectly in 15 minutes and her mushroom in eight minutes.
Since this model is on the cheaper side of the market, it looks beautifully shiny and chic and wouldn’t look out of place next to a luxury coffee maker. It is easy to operate. Key in the temperature and time on the digital display and off we go.
CHIP TEST: I use frozen chips and no oil, fill the large compartment and press start. It is very quiet and although the instructions say to wait 18 minutes my chips are cooked perfectly in 15 minutes. They are so tasty that I’m not even tempted to soak them in ketchup like I normally would.
BREAD MUSHROOMS: Mushrooms alone? Small balls of slime. Yes. Mushrooms coated in breadcrumbs and fried? That’s another story. Using a recipe from a YouTube video (there are thousands of airfryer recipes), I dip my mushrooms in cornstarch, then in egg, then in breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese.
I spray with olive oil and cook for eight minutes. They emerge crispy, nicely cooked with the mushrooms still al dente. They are indescribably delicious.5/5
Tower Vortx 4.3 liter digital air fryer, £74.99, towerhouse wares.co.uk
Claudia said Tower Vortx 4.3-liter digital air fryer (pictured) melted her tofu deliciously in 15 minutes
The deep compartment is large enough to cook enough food for a family or a greedy chip lover. Easy to operate, although the included recipe book is weak.
CHIP TEST: The noise the machine makes as it bakes sounds like a plane is about to land in my kitchen. But it’s worth it because the fries are cooked in 11 minutes and gives me the best result yet.
Every chip is fried to perfection, no burnt, no brown bits, just dozens of heavenly fries that are dangerous anymore.
crispy tofu: I am not a tofu lover. It looks so unappealing and tastes like an old bath sponge in my experience. But can an air fryer even make tofu tasty?
Using a YouTube recipe I make a marinade with cornflower, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce. I bake the pieces for 15 minutes, turning them once. They melt wonderfully in the mouth. I never thought I’d live to see the day I went back for a second helping of tofu.4/5
Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone Air Fryer, £229.99, ninjakitchen. co.uk
Claudia said the Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone Air Fryer (pictured) produced deep-frying-quality chips without the bucket of oil or nasty fried smell
Huge in size and looking like professional catering equipment, this monster has two full size compartments, which can add up to 9.5 litres, meaning you can cook an entire meal for a family. You can synchronize the compartments so that your food is ready at the same time or operate them separately. Being a technical idiot my heart drops at the prospect of operating this, but it’s so idiot-proof I don’t even have to consult the instruction manual.
CHIP TEST: This time I cook homemade chips. I cut my Maris Pipers into coarse fingers, wash and pat them dry and toss in a tablespoon of sunflower oil. Because frozen chips are already partially cooked, homemade chips take longer to make.
After 16 minutes I wonder if my peeling, chopping and washing have all been worth it. I will say! I’ve produced frying grade chips without the bucket of oil or the foul fried smell.
FROZEN SCAMPI: In the second compartment I put a bag of frozen breaded scampi which, after 12 minutes with no added oil, emerge as perfect globules of deliciousness. The breadcrumbs are brown and crispy and the fish inside is juicy and succulent.
They might even have been healthy if I hadn’t dipped them in tartar sauce.5/5
Tefal ActiFry Genius XL 2 in 1, £284.99, lakeland.co.uk
Claudia said that Tefal ActiFry Genius XL 2 in 1 (pictured) left her with soggy chips
I look more like a slow cooker than the traditional egg-shaped airfryer, and I quickly realize that “genius” might just be a reference to the fact that you have to be someone to understand the instructions, which consist of 34 individual diagrams the size of a postage stamp stamps. The machine has two compartments: the lower one for vegetables or potatoes and the upper one for meat or fish. Despite the hefty price tag, it doesn’t feel as sturdy as the others.
CHIP TEST: I put my homemade chips in the bottom pan (which is deep and can hold a super large serving) and add a tablespoon of oil. What I later realize is that it doesn’t cook both foods at the same time. Instead, it cooks what’s in the bottom pan and then keeps it warm while the top ingredients cook. Unfortunately this left soggy chips.
FRIED CHICKEN: I brush four drumsticks with egg and then panko breadcrumbs. I spray them with oil and give them 20 minutes to flip them halfway through. They turn out beautifully crispy, but the machine, unlike the others, turns red hot.2/5
Lakeland Digital Compact Air Fryer, £69.99, lakeland.co.uk
Claudia said the Lakeland Digital Compact Airfryer (pictured) cooked her fries beautifully and her bacon just the way she likes it
Not all air fryers are huge. No bigger than a kettle, this dinky machine is perfect for couples, singles or those without kitchen space. It has a simple digital display and looks sleek, shiny and discreet.
CHIP TEST: With 1.6 liters I can fit enough frozen fries for two people in the compartment. In 12 minutes, without adding oil, they are beautifully cooked. I don’t hear the timer ping and forget about them – but 10 minutes later they are still piping hot.
BACON: I like my bacon very crispy, with no white fat showing – impossible in a skillet without adding oil and it seems to take forever under the broiler.
I put four slices in the compartment and let the machine run for nine minutes. No odors escape and I wonder if it works. but I pull the lever out to reveal. . . four pieces of bacon, just the way I like them.4/5