There is only one thing worse than no chips, when you have been promised them. It is thoroughly disappointing chips. That’s what I now have: dull, mouth-drying batons of mildly soft carbohydrate, under a brittle brown carapace. They have been cooked, after a fashion, in the white plastic and metal box in front of me. I don’t regard the engineering involved as the problem. The problem is language. The kitchen appliance is a Cosori Air Fryer, and the issue is that third word. It’s called a fryer but, after cooking with one for a few hours, I can firmly say this: it does not fry. It doesn’t even come close to mimicking the glorious impact of placing foods in a pan of tumbling, boiling golden fat.
Not that people seem to care. So-called air fryers are in. Argos reported selling almost 100 of them an hour in September, while sales of Lakeland’s own-brand air fryer rose 90%. Posts on the video sharing site TikTok with the #airfryer hashtag have so far been viewed 4.8bn times. In the US, the market is now worth over $1bn, up 20% year on year. In the depths of an energy crisis, the appeal is obvious. According to moneysavingexpert.com air fryers can cost only 34p per hour to run against an average of 68p for a conventional oven.
But without doubt, the deal closer for buyers is the F word. It promises foods with that addictive deep-fried flavour and texture, but with only a fraction of the fat content, because you’ll use only a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil, rather than upend the whole bottle. Some manufacturers claim a reduction of 75%. There is no doubt that food cooked in an air fryer is lower in fat than food cooked in a deep fat fryer. Then again, so is your dinner when it’s cooked in an oven which, in truth, is what it most closely resembles.
The idea was developed in 2005 by Dutch inventor Fred van der Weij, who wanted crisp chips without deep frying. The patent was eventually bought by Philips, who launched the first model at a Berlin trade fair in 2010. By combining proximity to the heating element with fierce air flow it should brown and eventually crisp food by accelerating the Maillard reaction between amino acids and sugars, which gives foods their savoury flavour.
Obviously, I’m all for a bit of that, so I have been lent this Cosori by a colleague. It retails for £89.99 and has more than 12,500 four- or five-star reviews on Amazon. The only slight issue, my pal says, is that you are ruled by the accompanying recipe book because it can be tricky to work out how long and what settings different ingredients require. I note it includes cooking time for bacon. It’s the first thing I put in the deep fryer-like basket that goes in the drawer at the front. I press all the buttons as instructed, giving it the required six minutes. What comes out looks pallid and pink, like the skin imprisoned for a few days under a plaster after a cut.
I need to try a couple of the chicken recipes. The first is for garlic parmesan wings. I turn them in a mixture of cornflour, cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper before, as with so many recipes, anointing them with a few bursts from an oil spray. They take just 25 minutes, quicker than in a conventional oven.
Full marks for the recipe. It’s a great seasoning mix. But after the allotted time, they are only partly crisp on one side and, like the bacon, flaccid on the other. A second recipe for honey-sriracha wings, first turned in a rather more evolved seasoning mix before being swamped in sauce, is much more successful. There is a crispness to them, but they do have a longer cooking time.
Although presented as an alternative to the deep fat fryer, the air fryer cannot cope with wet batters. Those simply dribble away through the basket. The recipes try to get around this. A method for crisp “fried” fish nuggets – their quotation marks – requires turning pieces of white fish in seasoned flour, dipping in egg and then breadcrumbs before cooking. These are truly awful, a crime against fried fish. They are meant to take six minutes. In the end, I give them double that. It doesn’t help much. Oh, that poor, poor cod.
And so on to the ultimate test: handmade chips, turned with just three teaspoons of vegetable oil and some smoked paprika. I conclude that the latter is there to make the chips look browned at the end of the 28 minutes cooking time. But they are not cooked. The potato is still semi-raw. I give them another 10 minutes. Finally, they are sort of cooked, but they are dull and dry and very sad, as am I.
As an alternative to a deep fat fryer, this particular appliance has been a total, abject failure. It’s also worth noting the capacity is small. You can only feed two or three people at most with one of these. After that you’ll be cooking in batches.
But that doesn’t mean they do not have significant virtues. They are seriously energy efficient, which matters in the current economic climate. They preheat very quickly. And I can see that you could use them to cook a whole range of things very successfully.
The US food blogger, photographer and self-styled air fryer evangelist Rebecca Abbott has recorded herself cooking everything from lamb chops and rib-eye steaks to lobster, cheesecake and pumpkin pie in hers. Just don’t get one if what you’re dreaming of is really good chips. That way lies disappointment.