Air Fryer 101
How to Choose an
Air Fryer Model
As with adding any new appliance to your arsenal of kitchen equipment, the most difficult decision is which one to buy. There are several models of air fryers on the market at the writing of this book, and I’m willing to bet that number will double by the time this book hits the shelves. Air fryers range from petite versions that take up about the same space as a small microwave to larger versions that can cook large amounts of food and are more like studio-size countertop ovens. Prices range from well under $100 to upward of $300. Some air fryer cooks swear by certain models, but for this book, I did lots of research to see which might be best for me. Ultimately, I decided to go with the fairly inexpensive 2.2-quart CRUX model to develop the recipes for this book because I wanted everyone who can afford an air fryer, no matter the price, to be able to use the recipes in this book with success. This means that the majority of the recipes are made to serve one or two people because of the machine’s smaller cooking area. But rest assured, I also tested these recipes in large models and found the results just as good. In models with large fry baskets, feel free to, say, double the recipe for Spicy Dry-Rubbed Chicken Wings (page 39) to make enough for a large party. Or if you have the width, you can bake two Lemon–Poppy Seed Drizzle Cakes (page 144) side by side.
How to Use Presets
Every air fryer you might buy, like microwave ovens or multipurpose cookers, will come with preset cooking temperatures and times for specific foods, set by their respective manufacturers. These presets are convenient for simple foods that fit the purpose, like reheating pizza or frying chicken. I experimented with these presets at the beginning of my development, but ultimately tinkered with the temperatures and times to cook foods to a slightly higher quality without the “one size fits all” nature of presets. By all means, use those presets for the convenience, if you like, but once you see what the times and temperatures for each are, feel free to experiment yourself until you find the right combination for your favorite foods.
Shake, Stir, Flip
Though it’s usually not necessary to adjust the foods while they’re in the air fryer, thanks to the constantly circulating air, it’s nevertheless a good practice to move some foods around to ensure they get the optimal amount of exposure to the hot air while cooking. For loose items like fries or okra, a simple shake will do. For smaller pieces of food like grains, it’s helpful to stir them, lifting up any bits on the bottom of the basket or pan and moving them toward the top. And for wet foods like glazed tofu or soy-and-garlic chicken thighs, where the food is sitting in liquid that needs to reduce and glaze the meat or vegetable as it cooks, you’ll want to flip them often so you don’t end up with the bottom half completely wet and the top half unpleasantly dried out.
Don’t Overload the Basket
Deep-fried foods that are free-floating in hot oil get heat transfer at every angle and on every available surface area. Since items cooked in an air fryer aren’t suspended in oil, if you pack lots of fries into an air fryer, for example, the ones in the middle might not get as well cooked as those on the perimeter, which is getting the full force of the air fryer’s powerful hot air. One way to remedy this is by shaking and turning foods a few times while frying to make sure everything is evenly cooked. Another, more efficient way to combat this issue is to cook in smaller batches, so there’s no worry about cold spots where the air is blocked.
Know Your Hot Spots
Think of your air fryer as if your oven and broiler were on at the same time. There’s heat being circulated around the food constantly, cooking it from all sides, but that heat is primarily generated from above. For foods that are thin or small, like cutlets or shrimp, I don’t flip because the heat circulates around them well enough and they’re far enough from the heating element to avoid getting scorched. If you want to crisp up a particular side of the food, like the skin of a salmon fillet, it’s good to position that side near the element so it gets extra heat exposure.
Use Pans to Expand Your Air Fryer Possibilities
Most foods you cook in your air fryer will be items like chicken wings or french fries—easy to retrieve with tongs or turn out onto plates. To expand the versatility of the air fryer—which is equally adept at creating glazes, baking cakes, and popping small grains—purchase a set of air fryer inserts, which are sold online or at cookware stores by many of the same manufacturers of the various air fryer models. Virtually all of them include a shallow “pizza” pan, a tall-sided “cake” pan, a silicone cooling mat, and metal racks to hold the pans. While not all these inserts are necessary to use your air fryer, it’s a smart idea to get them (they range in price from $20 to $30) because they more than double the types of recipes you can make in your air fryer and really transform it into an all-in-one cooker.
Of all the inserts, though, the only one that I think is 100 percent necessary is the cake pan insert. To make baking achievable in the air fryer, you have to use a pan insert, and if I didn’t include some baking in this book because of that, I would’ve felt I was doing you, the reader, a disservice. Not only important for baking, they make cleanup a breeze, too, especially when cooking sauced or sticky foods. However, I use the pan inserts only where necessary: Most of the recipes that need them are in the Breakfast and Brunch (page 21) and Sweets (page 143) chapters. The pans come in both round and square shapes to fit your particular air fryer, but the shape doesn’t affect the cooking times in the book, as we tested baking recipes in both shapes. Aside from keeping cake batters in their place in the air fryer, they’re also great for containing sauces, glazes, and marinades for meat; small grains like quinoa and rice that would otherwise fall through the basket holes; and other foods that might need a little extra support underneath. If you don’t want to buy a set of inserts or the cake pan insert, you can just as easily use a 6- or 7-inch metal cake pan, available at any baking cookware store, or disposable round aluminum foil pans, which are very cheap and are sold in most grocery stores or online via Walmart.com or Webstaurantstore.com as “takeout” containers.
All the pan inserts have a metal handle on top to make lowering and lifting them out of the air fryer basket easy. But if you’re using a cake pan or foil pan, use two pairs of tongs as pinchers to grab opposite sides of the pan and lift it out. What’s great about the inserts, in particular, is that they can be cooked in and then transported right to the dinner table for serving.
How to Use Oil
in the Recipes
Even though air fryers can cook up food without added oil—in fact, many people who buy them do so expressly for their ability to use no oil whatsover—the appearance of most air-fried foods is improved greatly with just a little added oil, but no more than you’d normally put on vegetables or meat to roast or sauté them. One tablespoon of oil tossed with vegetables softens their skins and enhances their char. The same goes for meats, where a little oil helps to imbue their exteriors with an appealing caramelized color. For typically deep-fried foods with a breadcrumb coating like fried chicken or fish sticks, it’s easier to coat in oil by using cooking spray. There are many organic and natural cooking spray options on the market now, so I feel comfortable recommending them, especially once you see the benefits of using them on fried foods to get that perfectly golden brown hue. Choose brands that use olive oil or coconut oil, or purchase an oil sprayer, such as a Misto, which allows you to use your own favorite oil. Just be careful to spray the foods before you add them to the air fryer, not once inside the basket, since many manufacturers warn that cooking sprays can damage the interior nonstick coating of the air fryers themselves (similar to nonstick skillets).
And thanks to that nonstick surface, cleaning your air fryer is a breeze. Whether still warm or completely cooled, the inside of the air fryer can usually be wiped clean of any spills or splatters with just a damp paper towel. For the basket, some warm water and a soapy sponge, like you would use to clean any dish, suffice perfectly.
Get to Know Your Air Fryer
I see you’ve brought your new air fryer home, unpacked it, and taken off all the stickers and plastic. And you’re ready to get cooking . . . like, this exact instant. No worries. I got you covered!
I obviously want you to make all the recipes in this book to see how versatile the air fryer is, but right now, I want you to get familiar with your new machine and all its functions, and see how it can cook ordinary, everyday foods that you most likely already have in your kitchen.
Though I cover the gamut of recipes that work well in your air fryer, if you have a bag of frozen french fries, chicken tenders, or any frozen food that calls for being fried or baked, this is the easiest place to start. As a general rule, simply reduce the temperature on the package by 25°F and reduce the cooking time by 25 percent to cook in the air fryer. For example, if a package calls for you to cook frozen veggie burgers at 425°F for 25 minutes, cook them in the air fryer at 400°F for 18 to 20 minutes, making sure to start checking the food on the lower end of the time range. Once you get a feel for how strong your air fryer is, you’ll be able to tinker with the times and temperatures to get them just right.
If toasting 1 slice of bread, lean it against the wall of the air fryer basket. If using 2 to 4 slices, lean them against each other, like forming the shape of a tent, to fit more slices in the basket. Set the air fryer to 400°F and toast to your desired doneness. I’ve found that the number of minutes needed to make toast in the air fryer is comparable to those on the dials of a toaster (as in, if you toast your bread on a “3” in your toaster oven, it will take about 3 minutes to toast your bread). The timing will, of course, depend on the type, thickness, and freshness of your bread.
Bacon and Sausage
While we’re making toast for breakfast, let’s talk about eggs. I’ve found that there’s not really a good way to make plain eggs in the air fryer (they’re best mixed with other ingredients like in the frittatas and baked eggs in the Breakfast and Brunch chapter, starting on page 21); I tried making scrambled eggs and even after 30 minutes, the results weren’t pretty or even slightly cooked. But while you’re scrambling or frying your eggs on the stove, you can thankfully get the rest of breakfast cooked in the air fryer, especially typically messy or greasy bacon slices and sausage patties. For either, lay as many slices or patties as will fit in the basket in a single layer and cook at 400°F to your desired doneness, between 4 and 8 minutes (cooking from frozen doesn’t affect the cooking time here). And if you bought one of those handy and useful air fryer insert sets (see page 13), you can use the included wire racks to elevate your bacon or sausage off the bottom of the basket to ensure more even heating around them.
While I didn’t develop air fryer–specific cookie recipes for this book (because the inherent nature of cookies doesn’t translate well to the machine), the appliance is perfect for those times when all you want is to break off a square of prepared cookie dough and bake yourself a cookie. Just like with the aforementioned frozen foods, bake the cookies at 25°F less and for 25 percent less time than the package directs, then adjust from there until you find the right cooking time for your favorite brand of slice-and-bake or break-and-bake cookies. For the break-and-bake type of cookies, such as those made by Nestlé Toll House, where the package directs you to bake the cookies at 350°F for 12 to 15 minutes, I experimented a few times until I found that air frying the cookies at 320°F for 10 minutes was just perfect. If you have frozen balls of cookie dough from your own recipe, those will work in an air fryer, too. Just use the same time and temperature math and adjust until you’ve got a winning algorithm for that precious cookie.
A last, surprising, food to try out in the air fryer is that slice of cold, leftover pizza in your refrigerator (don’t lie to me, I know it’s there). Instead of acting like you really love cold pizza (no one does) or heating it in the microwave until it’s rubbery and sad, place it in the air fryer basket and cook at 400°F until it’s revived, the cheese is re-melted, and the crust is crisp on the bottom again (!!!). It will take between 4 and 8 minutes, depending on the thickness and shape of the pizza. The air fryer is perfect for reviving leftover fried foods from restaurants or your delivery orders—no more soft, soggy french fries, egg rolls, and wings reheated in the microwave. As you may have noticed, I generally recommend 400°F as the ideal temperature for the air fryer to get started because it’s similar to roasting in your oven at 425°F, but faster and with crispier results.
When in doubt with any new food, start at that temperature and check on the food as many times as you need until whatever you’re cooking is as heated through and as golden brown as you like.
Copyright © 2018 by Ben Mims. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.