Here’s something you didn’t need to know about me: I own an air fryer. I know that doesn’t seem like a particularly shocking thing to confess but I’m actually kind of bearing my soul to you right here because I got that air fryer as a birthday gift from my mum and now I’m out here telling the world that I still don’t really use it enough. In fact, I’ve probably used it under 15 times in total despite having it in my possession for almost two years now. Sorry, mum. It’s not like I haven’t found it a useful bit of kit when I have used it, either. I’ve made some really enjoyable air fryer fried chicken, I've crisped up Tenderstem broc, and I've even created some proper crunchy potato wedges in it – all of which tasted good and took very little effort to make.
If I’m being honest, the biggest thing that puts me off using my air fryer is the air fryer community. People are absolutely fanatic about air fryers. Once you stumble on the air fryer side of TikTok, your FYP will be bombarded by an assault of videos letting you know just how quick and easy and “totally awesome!” air fryers are at making just about everything. Nine times out of ten those videos seem as if they’ve been made by someone being held at gunpoint. Probably by an air fryer.
The websites that host air fryer recipes are similarly culty. Every sentence reads as if the air fryer is the greatest invention since sliced bread and it almost appears like every single person who has bought one has drunk the same Kool-Aid. In reality, the air fryer isn’t innovative in the slightest. It’s simply a convection oven with an extra fan. It doesn’t even technically fry anything: it bakes them. The air fryer basically does all the things that a convection oven does but it has the added benefit of being shaped like a Mark 6 nuclear bomb. Not that its unsightly aesthetic has slowed the sales of air fryers. Argos sells 1.6 air fryers a minute as demand for the devices has surged as a result of rising energy bills and the general cost of living crisis. They're obviously not going anywhere anytime soon. So, what is the air fryer's mass appeal? To try and find out what the hype is all about, I spoke to one of the world’s foremost air fryer experts.
Laurie Fleming bought her first air fryer back in 2017. The rest, as they say, is history. If you haven’t already made her air fryer country-style ribs or air fryer cinnamon rolls, just know that Laurie is one of the most prolific air fryer recipe creators on the internet. Her website, ForkToSpoon.com, is dedicated entirely to air fryer recipes and focuses on quick, simple meals you can make with readily available ingredients. Her cookbook Essential Air Fryer Cookbook for Beginners is a great place for any air fryer newbie to get started.
“My favourite thing to cook in the air fryer will depend on my mood,” Laurie tells Mob, “I have basically replaced my stove with my air fryers. In fact, I think I probably have the most of anyone in the world who isn’t a corporate company. I have successfully used about 45 air fryers, and they all have different functions. You can make fried rice or you can make scallion pancakes, and have a whole Chinese feast or a whole Italian feast.”
The air fryer is a more versatile cooking device than you (or I) might be giving it credit for. Did you, for instance, know that you could make a Hokkaido milk bun in an air fryer? No? Well, neither did I until I found a recipe for that on Laurie’s website. And it looks pretty great.
No, they’re not as good at making golden arancini as a deep fat fryer. But they can be used to make a range of different “fried” dishes and they do use up a hell of a lot less oil. That alone makes them extremely easy to clean and a nice alternative for anyone who wants crispy food without faffing around with a big pot of bubbling oil. Which, let's face it, is probably a lot of you who are reading this right now. I know I'm always pretty terrified whenever a recipe asks me to get a vat of vegetable oil heated up to a temperature that would capably rend the flesh from my bones. The air fryer, on the other hand, is extremely user-friendly and I think that's partly what's helped to make it such a phenomenon. Being able to sauté a perfect square of fish is a skill that takes hours and days to perfect. Learning how to use your air fryer to cook a piece of meat to the correct doneness, however, simply requires inputting the right settings. It's a pretty foolproof bit of kit. Most of the time, at least.
Things aren’t always going to go right when you use an air fryer but – as is the case with any kitchen mishap – only a bad workman blames their tools. “I have had lots of air fryer disasters,” admits Laurie, “but I look at them as a learning experience, which is why I love to help people learn about air frying. If you never had a disaster yourself, you can never truly help people learn about how to use an air fryer, and that is truly my main mission.” Getting to grips with an air fryer might not be as chef-y (or as useful) as learning your way around a Mauviel saucepan, but the only thing that people like Laurie want is for people like me and you to cook more and be more comfortable in the kitchen. If your gateway into a love and appreciation of cooking is through an air fryer, then I don't see anything wrong with that.