Like any red-blooded human, I love french fries. I do not, however, love belly fat and dangerously high cholesterol, so I indulge infrequently.
That may change thanks to the recent arrival of an air fryer, a kitchen appliance I'd never even heard of until last summer, but now seems to be everywhere. Suddenly healthy(ish) french fries are within my grasp.
And not just fries. Turns out these little convection ovens (which really aren't fryers at all) are good for all kinds of food prep. Let's take a look at different ways to get the most from this countertop cooker -- starting with which one to get.
Choose the right size
If you haven't purchased an air fryer yet, the first decision to make is arguably the most important: size. They're often measured in quarts, the smallest being around 2.75; the largest, about 6.
Because I have a family of four, I wanted something big enough to accommodate at least that many servings of fries. (Because, let's face it, we buy these things for fries.) Eventually I landed on a Secura 5.3-quart model (roughly 2.6 litres), which is currently out of stock at Amazon but was priced around $110.
The cooking basket measures 9.25x9.25x4 inches -- plenty big for all our chopped-up spuds. In fact, after cutting about eight of them, the basket still had plenty of room.
Bottom line: Before buying, check the measurements of the air fryer itself and make sure you have the counter space to accommodate it. I'm glad I didn't go with anything smaller, but this Secura does make a pretty chunky addition to the kitchen.
Invest in a french fry cutter
About those fries. The air fryer will do its best work if each piece of potato is a uniform size -- challenging at best if you're cutting by hand. My advice: Buy a cutter.
I've tried several over the years; the only one worth a darn is this Eeo stainless-steel job, which currently sells for $29 (it doesn't ship to Australia, but there's this for AU$70 and this in the UK for £63). It's the fastest, easiest tool I've used; it took me all of two minutes to crank through the aforementioned eight potatoes, and that was because it was my first time and I was moving slowly.
One more thing about fries...
Many air-fryer french fry recipes tell you to peel the potatoes first. Many more say you should soak them in water first, from anywhere between 30 minutes to 3 hours.
Here's what I did: Cut the potatoes, coated them in a tiny amount of oil, dropped 'em in the basket and cooked 'em. No peeling, no soaking... didn't even pat them dry first.
They. Were. Delicious.
Might they be better still after soaking and/or drying? Maybe. Is that extra effort necessary? Nope. Not in my book, anyway. If you've taste-tested them both ways, tell me your preference!
Get shaky with it
If you're cooking fries or something similar (tater tots, chicken nuggets, veggies, etc.), you'll want to give the basket a good shake at least once during the cooking process.
This will move everything around and allow the hot air to circulate to every surface of each piece of food -- important for uniform "frying." Although many recipes call for shaking halfway through the cooking time, I recommend doing it more often, like every 4-6 minutes.
Remember, your air fryer is just a little oven. If you were cooking, say, chicken breasts in a regular oven, you wouldn't stack them on top of each other, would you? Same deal here, with the aforementioned exception of fries and veggies, spread them out as best you can and don't overload the basket.
Some fryers come with a rack that lets you add a second layer of food above the basket. Now you can cook, say, four pieces of salmon instead of just two. (Speaking of which, I made exactly that last night. It didn't get dried out the way it does in the oven. Yum.)
Adapt oven recipes
Want to make an old favorite in your air fryer? Even if Grandma's Best Chicken was written with conventional ovens in mind, it's easy to adapt nearly every recipe for fryer use.
Typically, you'll just lower the cooking temperature by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit. If the oven recipe says 350 (176 degrees Celsius), the fryer gets set to 325 (160 Celsius). Similarly, you'll need about 20 percent less cooking time, though this can certainly vary depending on the kind of food, the cooking temperature and so on.
Need help with the math? Check out the Air Fryer Calculator, which will convert standard cook times and temperatures to Celsius.
Think outside the fry
Assuming you can find a free minute when your air fryer isn't cooking french fries, there are lots of other things you can make in there -- some of which may surprise you.
Below I've rounded up some great recipes you'll definitely want to try:
Got any air fryer tips or recipes of your own to share? You know the drill: Hit up the comments section and share away!