Nothing beats an air fryer during pandemic cooking

Cynthia R Greenlee

THE WASHINGTON POST – If I applied Marie Kondo’s simple yet polarising question to my kitchen appliances, only my air fryer would make the cut. It has undeniably sparked a particular kind of pandemic joy: the pleasures of safe experimentation, mental activity and the illusion of control.

I had resisted buying an air fryer precisely because too many friends had gushed about them with obnoxious enthusiasm.

I’d seen the same kind of technological evangelism among former PC users who converted to Macs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Apple’s legendary commercials characterised its competition as middle-aged, bloated, slow and stodgy.

I groused – as author and Food Network personality Alton Brown did on Twitter in early October – that these miniature convection ovens aren’t fryers at all.

Instead, they surround food in an El Niño of hot air, cooking with little or no oil. Baking and roasting, yes; frying, no.

Plus, chances were high that any new countertop appliance would soon join my junk-cabinet graveyard of George Foreman grills, bullet juicers, electric griddles and Tupperware.

Air fried Korean-style chicken wings. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Spicy air-fryer beef bacon-wrapped shrimp

But then a friend mentioned the magic words: “egg rolls”. The last time I’d bitten into one that snapped, crackled and popped, I was dining at my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in the Before Times. I had tired of sad, soggy takeout egg rolls that needed broiler time to reach their full crunch potential.

Armed with my air fryer and anticipation, I fired up chicken wings, roasted carrots and broccoli, citrus salmon and moist banana bread. Trying to recapture the spontaneity the pandemic has drained from everyday life, I tossed fruit into the air fryer.

An unpeeled plantain yielded steamed – but not appropriately caramelised – maduros. I rescued one of summer’s last peaches from incipient mealiness with a single pat of butter and brown sugar.

The infamous mushiness of a whole Red Delicious apple became a delightful no-added-sugar applesauce.

Fred van der Weij, the 58-year-old “father of the air fryer” as we know it, understands that compulsion to try new things as both an entrepreneur and eater.

A product designer and engineer based in the Netherlands, he had heard of Chinese-made, smaller convection ovens.

But they couldn’t quite produce what he craved: the perfect fries with little hassle (it’s not just the Belgians and their frites).

Those appliances “couldn’t make french fries of very good quality. They were dry and not very crispy at all. They needed a long time for preparation.

French fries were the first thing we tried, because they’re very sensitive to heating: too much, too long, too short”, he said. Then came Dutch kroketten, meats and other snacks.

On a recent Zoom call, van der Weij walked me through his workshop and pointed out early prototypes. The first attempt was rustic, nothing more than a box of pale wood with a metal cooking bowl that he handcrafted himself around 2006.

He pitched a short, squat crimson machine using the air-cooking method he had patented to the multi-national electronics maker Philips. And then finally, a sleeker black model produced by Philips’ global design team and introduced at a consumer electronics fair in Berlin in 2010.

Three years later, Philips began selling its air fryer in the United States. Estimates vary, but the worldwide air fryer business market in 2018 might have been worth as much as USD900 million.

That mass proliferation is the result of the concept’s legs – easier, healthier cooking with less oil and time – and the power of global business. But it may have to do with the way appliances, particularly the air fryer, can make people feel.

All I do is buy and load ingredients in the basket with a minimum of planning. But I feel like I am doing something.

Listening to the automated heavy breathing of my air fryer at work, I puff out my chest in confidence in a task well done – what a psychologist might call self-efficacy.

Know your fryer, and you can make more than junk food in it. Here’s how to make:

AIR FRYER KOREAN-STYLE CHICKEN WINGS

Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes

4 servings

Air-frying produces crisp-skinned chicken wings that can then be tossed in your favourite sauce. This spicy Korean-style sauce is made with gochujang (Korean chile paste). The sauce is enough to lightly coat two pounds of chicken wings, about 20 or so pieces.

It is possible to cook this recipe in a four-quart capacity air fryer, but if using a smaller appliance, you may need to cook the wings in batches to avoid overcrowding.

There is no need to spray the chicken wings with oil before air-frying because the chicken skin should produce enough oil. But if traces of cornstarch still show after cooking, you can lightly spray the pieces.

Gochujang is available at international markets or well-stocked grocery stores.

MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. Leftover wings can be refrigerated for up to three days. Unsauced leftover wings can be reheated in the air fryer for two minutes. Sauced wings should be reheated in a conventional oven.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE WINGS

2 pounds chicken wings (drumettes and flats)

3/4 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

FOR THE SAUCE

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste), or your favourite chile paste

2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon minced or finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon minced or finely grated garlic

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Sliced scallions, for serving (optional)

Sesame seeds, for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Make the wings: Set the air fryer to 390 degrees and preheat for about 5 minutes.

Dry the wings with paper towels and place them in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder and salt.

Cover the wings with the cornstarch mixture and, using your hands or kitchen tongs, toss, ensuring all pieces are coated.

Once the fryer is preheated, tap each piece of chicken on the side of the bowl to remove excess starch and place it in the air fryer basket. Wings can touch each other, but do not overcrowd them. Cook in batches if necessary.

Close the basket and cook chicken wings for 30 minutes, turning and rotating chicken about every 10 minutes.

Make the sauce: While the chicken is cooking, in a small saucepan, whisk together the honey, gochujang, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and salt until combined. Set the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. Remove from the heat.

Once the chicken is done, transfer the wings to a shallow bowl or platter, add sauce and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the scallions and sesame seeds, if using, and serve.

SPICY AIR-FRYER BEEF BACON-WRAPPED SHRIMP

Active time: 10 minutes | Total time: 15 minutes

3 servings (4 shrimp per serving)

Use frozen shrimp to make this easy appetiser in just 15 minutes. Dust the peeled shrimp – it’s okay if they are still slightly frozen because that makes them easier to wrap up – with your favourite seasoning blend, wind them in beef bacon and slip them into a preheated air fryer for 11 minutes. If your beef bacon unfurls a bit, they’ll still be tasty. These are spicy, so cut back on the seasoning if you want a milder dish.

If using a four-quart air fryer, you can cook 12 jumbo shrimp at once; if it is a smaller capacity, you may have to cook in batches.

MAKE AHEAD: The dipping sauce can be made up to three days ahead and refrigerated. The pepper will become more pronounced after a day or two. Leftover shrimp can be refrigerated up to two days; the sauce for up to three days. Reheat in the preheated air fryer for two minutes.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE SHRIMP

12 jumbo shrimp (21-25 count), peeled with the tail shell left on, and deveined

1 tablespoon Creole seasoning

2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper

3 thin slices of beef bacon, halved lengthwise and then halved across

FOR THE SAUCE

1/3 cup orange marmalade

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon minced or grated garlic

1/4 teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger

DIRECTIONS

Make the shrimp: Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees for five minutes. While the air fryer is preheating, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and season with the Creole seasoning and pepper on both sides. Wind a quarter of a beef bacon strip around each shrimp, doing your best to cover as much of the shrimp as you can.

Arrange the shrimp in a single layer in the air fryer basket without overlapping. Try to place the shrimp so the ends of the beef bacon are under the shrimp. Cook for 11 minutes.

Make the sauce: While the shrimp is cooking, in a small bowl, stir together the marmalade, pepper flakes, garlic and ginger until well combined. Taste, and season with more pepper flakes, if desired. Arrange the shrimp on a platter and serve with the dipping sauce on the side.