I managed to resist for quite a long time but it’s happened, I’ve finally caved and jumped on the air fryer band wagon. I’ve a tendency to fall for gadgets that I’ve been trying to slow down over the last few years, but recently I found myself with a bit of money burning a hole in my pocket and a whole load of glowing testimonials about air fryers in many browser tabs in front of me. Throw in a pending week home alone cooking for one and I quickly abandoned any restraint and ordered a Ninja Air Fryer Max.
The air fryer isn’t as new a phenomenon as the current cost-of-living spike in its popularity might lead you to believe. I first encountered one about 13 years ago, one of the bulky Tefal Actifry things intended to replicate the effects of a deep-fat fryer on chips. I recall the owner being effusive about it but then giving the concept little thought until the last year or so as they’ve gained so much traction. I had various objectives in mind when I picked mine up, in particular speeding up the cooking of frozen beige food demanded by Little Fork as well as being able to knock up bacon and sausages etc for a speedy breakfast. The added cooking space when putting together a Sunday roast would also be a bonus and the thought of it shaving a bit off of our huge energy bills was enticing too.
Unboxing my new Ninja Air Fryer was as exciting as ever for a new kitchen toy. I noted minimal use of plastic in the packaging too with cardboard inserts replacing what would in years gone by have been blocks of polystyrene. First impressions of the appliance itself are good: it’s sensibly proportioned and fits perfectly into the space I’d assigned for it. I’d feared that it would be somewhat monolithic and dominate the kitchen but it’s perfectly unobtrusive next to the microwave. Accompanying documentation is comprehensive, giving details of how the various modes work and how to adapt cooking times for air frying. So after giving the cooking tray a quick wipe down I’m giddily comtemplating what to first subject to its fan assisted clutches. Rather unimaginatively this turns out to be a handful of frozen chips, but I may as well start from the beginning and see where I fancy going next. Unlike some other brands I researched, Ninja recommends preheating the appliance for 3 minutes which slightly undermines the perceived benefit of being able to cook from cold. Still, 3 minutes is hardly an undue inconvenience and the machine only takes two button presses to get heating up, a marked improvement on the eternity my grill takes to come up to temperature. Even with that 3 minutes taken into account it was about a dozen minutes later that I was tucking into crispy, fluffy chips that were a marked improvement on the oven. An impressive first gambit.
Showing a distinct lack of imagination, I then threw in a couple of chicken Kievs for dinner which were perfectly crisped, cooked through and not at all dry after twenty minutes. Bacon is turned around similarly quickly and before long I’m confident enough to ditch the oven for days at a time, happily cooking anything in the air fryer that’s appropriately sized. Obviously there’re a couple of missteps such as the pizza I took perilously close to carbonisation and the small piece of parchment I set fire to by not securing properly, but what’s life without risk eh…not nearly as close a call as those kebabs I set fire to in my bedsit that time. After this the positive reception continues pretty much unabated: it saves a great deal of time, is easy to clean, produces results at least equal to a conventional oven and as a lower power device powered up for a shorter time must by definition be cheaper to run.
Downsides? It’s taken a mental recalibration to accept that meat can be cooked to a safe temperature so quickly that I use a probe thermometer for reassurance still. I’ve had to buy a rack to provide more internal real estate for bacon and so on… and I can’t think of much else. Earlier today it produced perfect roast parsnips and carrots for Sunday lunch, saving me from needing to use the smaller side of the double oven and I’ve just heard it beep from downstairs where it’s turning out a grilled cheese sandwich for an early evening snack. Most tellingly it’s been adopted without hesitation by Mrs Fork, who’s just returned from a week abroad for work. She has a pathological aversion to “gadgets” so I’d intended ordering one to be delivered mere hours after her flight departed so I could spend a week familiarising myself and cooking in a smaller appliance suitable for solo meals. However, my nerve failed me when I realised the heavily discounted model I’d ordered would take up a fair wedge of our counter space. Having confessed my intended misdemeanour, I grabbed the Ninja, which had a smaller footprint than the Tefal model I’d seen, and after those early experiments she was sold.
Clearly it’s made a positive impression on this household and my hoped for ability to bring food to the table speedily enough to counter Little Fork’s journey to the snack cupboard has materialised. I still need to play around with dishes that would more traditionally be deep fried and really get into the breadth of the baking and dehydrating functions it has but I couldn’t be more pleased with my Ninja. It’s achieved everything I hoped it would and more, immediately becoming a staple of the kitchen. Clearly as the last decades have illustrated I could live without it, but I wouldn’t want to now.