Fried food is the bad houseguest of cooking techniques: It’s a crowd-pleaser, but behind the kitchen door it’s messy, temperamental and leaves a foul stink. We wondered if there was a better way to indulge our fried fetish at home, so we bought an air-fryer and cranked up the oven to see whether we could fake it using either appliance.
First, for those who think a good knife and pot are the only things you need to cook: An air fryer is a kitchen appliance the size of a large coffee maker — our GoWISE 5.8-quart model cost a little over $100 — and it essentially combines a small convection oven with a fry basket.
We were curious to see if it would perform better than a conventional oven — a gas one, operated at temperatures ranging from 375 degrees to 450 degrees. We tried rimmed and unrimmed cookie sheets, with and without parchment paper to prevent sticking.
We breaded chicken — bone-in and boneless using two different techniques — chopped up sweet potatoes, sliced onions, mandolined regular potatoes and ripped open boxes of frozen samosas and cheese sticks.
The air fryer reliably produced crispier surfaces and did a much better job replicating that special feat of frying: creating food with a dry crust and a moist center.
In the oven, breaded items fared worst, with the coating occasionally sloughing off before we got food to the plate. Even when food came out well, no one would have mistaken it for fried.
Both options require substantially less oil, offering healthier alternatives to deep-fat frying.
So, should you buy an air fryer? It was relatively simple to use, requiring food to be occasionally tossed or turned; typically took much less time than the conventional oven; and was easy to clean.
But it depends on how much you crave fried food and whether you have a spare chunk of change and kitchen space. In my house, it would likely end up in my pantry, aka the appliance graveyard.
When I want to indulge in something fried, I’d rather dine out.
FAKE FRIED CHICKEN
Prep: 20 minutes
Soak: 20 minutes
Cook: 18 to 40 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
1 cup flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 chicken, cut up, the breast pieces cut in half for more even frying
1 tablespoon oil
1. Mix the flour, cornmeal, breadcrumbs and seasoning in a bowl; set aside.
2. Mix the buttermilk and egg together in a separate bowl until combined. Soak the chicken in the buttermilk mixture at room temperature, 20-30 minutes.
3. Remove chicken from the buttermilk, allowing excess to drip off. Dip the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour to coat all sides, shaking off excess. Allow to sit on a rack over a baking sheet, 20 minutes. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
4. For oven-fried, bake at 400 degrees, 40-50 minutes, checking frequently after 40 minutes for doneness, removing parts as necessary.
5. For air fried, brush the inside of the basket with the oil. Cook at 390 degrees for 10 minutes. Brush the basket with more oil and turn the pieces. Cook at 300 degrees for 8 more minutes.
SWEET POTATO FRIES
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 to 25 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
2 pounds sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons oil (enough to lightly coat fries)
Salt (or Old Bay Seasoning) to taste
Honey, for serving
1. Cut sweet potatoes into fries about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Toss with oil.
2. For oven frying, heat oven to 450 degrees. Spread fries in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet; bake, flipping halfway through, until browned and crisped, 25-30 minutes.
3. For air frying, cook at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Open tray and shake fries every 5 minutes until desired doneness is reached.
4. Dust with salt or seasoning. Serve with honey for dipping.
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