Let’s face it – January can be a pretty bleak month. With the festivities of Christmas behind us, pay-day seemingly ages away, and with many carrying a few extra pounds thanks to indulging in delicious festive food, a New Year’s Resolution to eat healthier and lose those additional pounds will be top of most people’s list.
However, depending upon where you are in the world, weather-wise, January can be pretty cold – which is unlikely to make anyone want to tuck in to a tasty salad. If you’re like me, the cold weather will bring on cravings for hearty, comfort food: pies, mashed potato, and rich, warming puddings.
Add to that the lethargy many of us feel in January; the festive season can be pretty exhausting. I usually squeeze in seeing the various members of my family and friends that I rarely see through the rest of the year, while also spending more time in the kitchen than usual making food from scratch to give as gifts at Christmas.
You can see where this is going, right? Basically, despite all my good intentions, January sees me plough into more takeaways than the rest of the year combined – because it’s quicker and easier than cooking for myself. Besides, indulging in tasty food puts a smile on my face; better than suffering the January blues, surely?. However, this year with the help of an air fryer, I plan to break the takeaway habit.
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The best air fryers offer a healthier way to cook fries, chicken wings and other indulgent treats, because they use far smaller quantities of oil to crisp food than deep frying. There are two styles of air fryer on the market. The first comes with a basket or perforated crisper plate on which you place food to be cooked; the other is a bowl-style air fryer, which has a solid base with a paddle to move the food around the bowl.
Whichever type of air fryer you choose, both work by having hot air circulate around every inch of the food to create a crisp and crunchy finish – the type of finish you’d achieve by submerging food in to boiling hot oil. The latter is certainly the cooking method employed by the likes of McDonalds, Burger King and, of course, KFC for my preferred takeaway foods of chips and fried chicken.
So exactly what can you cook in an air fryer? As mentioned, air fryers are great for cooking healthier versions of fries and chicken wings. If you’re looking to ditch McDonalds or Burger King, then basket-style air fryers can also be used to cook burgers – the crisper plate with holes will ensure any residue fat drains away from the meat, again decreasing the calories you consume. Sadly, we can’t help when it comes to creating a healthier alternative to the burger bun. However, most air fryers can also roast, reheat and grill, so depending upon how you like your burgers cooked, it may be worth experimenting with the different settings.
We’ve also previously had great success in cooking KFC-style chicken in an air fryer, using breadcrumbs to create the crispy, crunchy texture of the deep-fried coating. A spritz of oil ensures the chicken is browned to an appetising golden color. However, if your preference is for chicken with a crispy skin rather than wrapped in a crunchy coating, then an air fryer can be of help here, too. You can cook everything from chicken wings, chicken thighs and even chicken breast with crispy skin and succulent and juicy meat on the inside.
To be clear, air fryers do require the use of some oil. However, how much you use will depend on the model of air fryer you opt for. For example, the Instant Vortex Plus, which currently tops our list of the best air fryers, requires just 2tsp for a 1.1lb / 500g batch of fries, whereas the Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone Air Fryer AF400 recommends anywhere from 1tbsp to 3tbsp for the same-size batch of fries. As such, if you’re looking to keep your calorie intake as low as possible, then check the requirements before you buy.
Speed is also a reason I resort to takeaways in January. I’m usually fairly exhausted come the first month of the year, partly because of overdoing it through December, but also where the UK is concerned, the nights draw in relatively early. Often this means I see cooking as a chore in January, rather than a task I enjoy – which is how I feel the rest of the year. As a result, the delivery app on my phone sees plenty of action.
1. Start by peeling 1.1lb / 500g of potatoes and chopping them into 0.4 inch / 1cm batons and soak them in water for between 10 and 30 minutes.
2. Thoroughly dry the potatoes using a dishcloth and then place them into a clean bowl and drizzle over the required amount of oil.
3. Toss the potato in the oil to ensure every inch of the batons are coated, and add any season you require.
4. If your air fryer requires it, activate the pre-heat. Once complete, select the temperature and cooking duration based on the instructions supplied with the air fryer. Add the coated fries to the basket or bowl and press start.
5. Remember to shake the fries halfway through cooking. When the air fry program finishes, remove the fries and serve with the condiments of your choice.
However, cooking in an air fryer is generally much faster than using traditional cooking methods. For example, a batch of fries can be ready in around 20 minutes, which is almost a third less time than it would take to create healthy fries in the oven. Similarly, I can tuck into some tasty chicken wings in just over 15 minutes; in the oven, I’d expect them to take between 35 and 45 minutes.
Most air fryer crisper plates, and in some cases the basket, too, are dishwasher-safe, so while using an air fryer may well generate slightly more washing up than opting for a takeaway, it really isn’t a big deal. There’s far less rubbish created when using an air fryer, too.
There’s no denying that an air fryer can be an expensive purchase – for example, the Instant Vortex Plus will set you back $119.95 / £119.99 / AU$269 – but given that I spend an average of £12 (the equivalent to $16 or AU$22) at a time on takeaways, in 12 trips I’d have already broken even. However, the positive effect that opting to cook in an air fryer will have on my health is priceless, making the outlay more than worth it.
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Carrie-Ann Skinner was formerly Homes Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades of experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie specializes in smart home devices such as smart plugs and smart lights, as well as large and small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, stand mixers, and coffee machines. Carrie is now a copy editor at PWC.