Restaurants, Food and Drink Restaurants, Food and Drink | How the air fryer won our hearts — plus recipes!
A year ago, Rebecca Abbott, a food photographer and blogger in Mesa, Arizona, bought her first air fryer to develop recipes for a client’s blog. She started with the usual air-fryer specialties, frozen pizza rolls and tater tots, but it wasn’t long until she realized that her model could make pretty much anything she wanted. Four months later, she was stunned when her homemade cheesecake emerged from the device, baked to perfection in 20 minutes with no cracks or dips.
“Then, the floodgates opened,” Abbott said. She thought, what more could she cook in the air fryer?
Lamb chops, beef and pork tenderloin, a medium-well rib-eye steak, filet mignon, crab legs, lobster tails, pecan and pumpkin pie — she has made them all in the appliance she calls her “magic box.” She now owns seven, six of different brands, and runs a blog, Air Frying Foodie, with her friend Jennifer West.
The two are also moderators for a Facebook group, Easy Air Fryer Recipes, where users share dozens of recipes and tips for the device. The group has nearly 1 million members, with about 10,000 new requests to join every day.
Cooks stuck at home during the two years of the pandemic have turned to the air fryer, in part, because it can replicate deep-frying, lending crunch to foods while using little or no oil. But they have also discovered that it can do more than just crisp. An air fryer can make breakfast, lunch and dinner. For some cooks, it has nearly replaced ovens or microwaves for heating frozen finger foods, refreshing leftovers or cooking meals and desserts. Social media influencers, especially on TikTok, have made careers out of sharing new recipes and unexpected uses for the appliance.
Fans have tapped into the old habits of a fry cook, air-frying anything they get hold of and hoping it works. You name it, someone has probably stuck it into an air fryer — cooked penne for “pasta chips,” or whole, shelled eggs for a soft or boiled texture.
Farrah Jalanbo, a food influencer in Chino Hills, California, came up with an elote-inspired recipe for corn ribs that became an air-fryer favorite. Her version — corn on the cob that has been quartered, air-fried and dressed with Cotija cheese and cilantro — has drawn more than 14 million views on TikTok, where there are dozens of corn-rib adaptations, from sweet to spicy to barbecue-seasoned.@recipes
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“Any air-fryer recipe does really well because people love seeing different ways of using that extra kitchen appliance they paid for,” Jalanbo said.
Fred van der Weij, an inventor in the Netherlands, was just looking for a way to crisp a French fry without deep-frying when he started developing the air fryer in 2005.
Before his invention, he said, alternative methods for making fries at home took too long, with disappointing results. A convection oven, for instance, dried them out.
It took van der Weij three years to develop a prototype, and his egg-shaped fryer, produced by Philips, was introduced in 2010 at the Internationale Funkausstellung, a major consumer electronics fair in Berlin. It combined close-range radiation and increased air flow to better heat the food’s surface. Philips now owns the patents for van der Weij’s air-frying technology.
“It was kind of a holy grail that many companies were looking for — to make better French fries,” he said. “To find a way to make the handling much easier and the results much better would be a very big potential, that was clear. But I did not expect it would be as big as it is right now.”
Major kitchen-appliance companies like Cosori, Ninja, Cuisinart and Instant Brands quickly introduced models of their own. They have added the air-fryer function to other appliances like convection and home ovens and pressure cookers.
When West, the co-creator of the Easy Air Fryer Recipes group on Facebook, set out to remodel her home kitchen in Shreveport, Louisiana, she decided that a stove with an air fryer was a must, even though she already owned five models of the air fryer.
“It’s a great device used by everyone,” she said of the air fryer. “All ages, all over the world.”
The first big sales boom for the air fryer came in 2017, and the pandemic provided another boost. Sales in the United States rose over the past year to slightly more than $1 billion — 20% more than in the year before, said Joe Derochowski, the vice president and home industry adviser at the NPD Group, a market research firm. In 2020, about 36% of American households had an air fryer, but Derochowski said that number would now be higher.
To understand the obsession many people have with the air fryer, it helps to look back to the mid-20th century, when food manufacturers learned that crispiness and crunch were among the textures consumers craved most, said Nadia Berenstein, a flavor historian. Those textures, which required a lot of heat and oil to achieve, had long been difficult to produce in a home kitchen for a weeknight meal.
Deep-frying was available to industrial food processors, Berenstein said. But now the air fryer is “on your counter, bringing home this kind of sensation that you had to rely on other people to produce.”
Americans buy more kitchen gadgets than people in the rest of the world, and that is probably because advertisers promise it will change their lives, said Ruth Cowan, a retired history of science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a book on household technology titled “More Work for Mother.” The kitchens of U.S. consumers also tend to have more counter and storage space.
The air fryer is closely following the path of the 12-button blender, she said. As air fryers become a counter staple, manufacturers are adding features to fry, bake, dehydrate, pressure-cook or broil. And as consumers shop for an air fryer, they often choose one with many functions, Cowan said, even though they’ll probably use only a few.
The popularity of the air fryer also reminds her of the microwave’s ascendance in the 1970s. Some companies thought home cooks would use the microwave only to heat frozen meals, but ultimately they found other uses.
“Nobody recommended cooking a whole chicken in a microwave,” she said, “but people did.”
Megha Ramesh, a food-science student at the University of California, Davis, uses her air fryer to make vegetarian foods. She heated handpies and tofu in her off-campus apartment, and at her home in India, she heats momos, dehydrates mangoes and cooks whole, shelled peanuts.
“Getting an air fryer wasn’t about making fried things, but how to get the best out of the food we made yesterday,” said Ramesh, who bought her first air fryer used, for $30, while living with roommates at school. The device also cut her electric bill in half because she didn’t have to use her oven.
The appliance has been an especially useful tool for Shelly Cobb of Arab, Alabama, who has experienced pain since having knee replacement surgery, and struggles to move around her kitchen. It is much easier for her to reach her air fryer on the counter than to bend over to use her oven, an appliance she has almost retired. She uses the air fryer to bake light, airy biscuits for breakfast. Leftover pizza reheated in the fryer comes out better than it did in the oven, she said.
The air fryer, she said, is “everything and better than I hoped it would be,” adding that with her medical issues, “it’s made it bearable to cook.”
Social media influencers have ratcheted up the creativity of recipes made in the air fryer by showing off the device to younger audiences. On TikTok, a video app most popular for users 16 to 24 years old, content creators have banked millions of views by pushing the limits of what can be made in the air fryer — everything from those corn cobs to doughnuts and cookies. Currently, there are 2.6 billion views under #airfryer and another nearly 700 million under #airfryerrecipes.
Jori Maglaya, a chef and DJ in Los Angeles who goes by the name Jori Mezuda, has attracted thousands of comments on TikTok videos in which she makes air-fried foods like cheese sticks dusted in spicy Cheetos. “People are like, ‘Oh my gosh, you make me want to buy an air fryer,’ ” she said.
Food companies have piggybacked on the appliance’s popularity. Since 2019, many Ore-Ida products have come with air-frying instructions. Tyson items like chicken nuggets and strips have similar directions, and the company is selling premade air-fried chicken. Louisiana Fish Fry makes coating mixes specifically for the air fryer.
How long the love affair will last is unclear. Electric knives and fondue pots have had their day on the kitchen counter, said Cowan, the University of Pennsylvania professor. But in most homes, they were eventually exiled to the back of a cabinet or discarded.
For Chinyerem Uguru, a Yonkers, New York, blogger who uses the name Chichi, it’s the oven that is getting a rest. She has used it only a handful of times in the past six months.
No need to use the stove to make easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs, or the oven to make small quantities of her native Nigerian food like jollof rice or meat pies. The air fryer, she said, is “here to stay for the long haul.”
Air-Fryer French Fries
By Melissa Clark
Yield: 2 servings
Total time: 25 minutes, plus soaking and drying
1. Put potatoes in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Soak for at least 30 minutes (or up to overnight, stored in the refrigerator), then drain and pat very dry.
2. Heat the air fryer to 350 degrees, if preheating is necessary. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels.
3. In a dry bowl, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Transfer to air fryer and fry at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, tossing halfway. Transfer the potatoes to the baking sheet, spreading them in an even layer, and let cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. (This step is optional; it gives the fries a slightly crispier exterior. If you want to skip it, keep the potatoes in the fryer and proceed to the next step.)
4. Turn the air fryer heat up to 400 degrees. Arrange potatoes in the fryer if you’ve taken them out, and drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon oil. Cook for until golden and crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes, tossing or stirring halfway through. Transfer immediately to a serving platter and sprinkle with more salt.
5. While the fries are cooking, make the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard and paprika. Serve alongside the fries for dipping.
Air-Fryer Spicy Chicken Wings
By Melissa Clark
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
Total time: 25 minutes, plus resting
1. In a large bowl, toss chicken with baking powder, salt and pepper until the pieces are thoroughly coated. Spread the pieces out on a rack placed on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 1 hour and up to overnight. (The longer, the better.)
2. Heat the air fryer to 400 degrees, if preheating is necessary.
3. Arrange chicken on air fryer rack so all of the pieces are standing up against the edges of the basket, with as much space around each one as possible. Fry until golden brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together butter, lemon zest and juice, honey, Tabasco and sriracha.
5. Immediately transfer the fried chicken wings to the bowl with the honey-chile sauce and toss well. Serve at once.
Air-Fryer Brussels sprouts With Garlic, Balsamic and Soy
By Melissa Clark
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
1. Heat air fryer to 400 degrees, if preheating is necessary.
2. Place Brussels sprouts in the air fryer basket; drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and the salt. Fry for 15 minutes, shaking basket or stirring the sprouts halfway through.
3. Sprinkle sprouts with garlic. Continue to fry until the garlic is golden brown, another 2 to 4 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring balsamic vinegar to a simmer. Continue to simmer until thickened and starting to look syrupy, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning, 2 to 3 minutes. (Keep a close eye on it; it will go from reduced to burned very quickly.) Remove from heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons oil, the lime juice and the soy sauce.
5. Transfer Brussels sprouts to a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic dressing. Squeeze more lime juice on top to taste.