I must have heard about air fryers fifty times before I paid the least bit of attention. I was sure it was a gimmick. A gimmick for people who are afraid to eat fat. A gimmicky electric gadget for producing desiccated, leathery facsimiles of actual fried food.
How wrong I was.
One day a friend who had recently gone cuckoo for keto showed me her family's new air fryer from Costco. I nodded politely. Then she showed me the chicken she'd fried in it. My eyes popped when I saw the perfectly crispy skin.
I'd spent years working on my technique for achieving similar results in a big ol' pot of oil. So many things can go wrong. Oil not hot enough? You have sad, soggy coating. Oil too hot, and it blackens on the outside before the inside really cooks. Use the oil too many times, and the taste of whatever you fried before permeates today's meal. Especially if it was ever fish. Use a completely fresh batch of oil, and the molecular structure is bound together in a clean, glossy matrix that won't interact properly with the surface of the food. So you need to save just a bit of the old oil (but not too brown and old, and certainly not fishy) to add to the fresh. But not too much.
Not to mention straining the used fry oil for reuse. And for heaven's sake don't pour it down the drain when you can't get more use out of it. Lest you incur plumber bills when it coats and clogs your pipes.
“I just put the chicken in this compartment and turned it on,” said my friend, breaking my from my reverie. “Look how it turned out!”
From that moment, I had to have one. I wound up choosing the Secura Electric Hot Air Fryer Extra Large Capacity Air Fryer and additional accessories; Recipes and skewers accessory set (5.3Qt).
It had the biggest capacity I saw. I liked that it had a physical dial, instead of a digital display. I like that there's an actual spring timer that literally winds down. And there's a satisfying “DING!” that a real bell makes when the air fryer's time is done.
How does it do it? How does an air fryer — with no added oil whatever — make perfectly fried chicken, With no muss, no fuss, no bother?
And yes, the chicken actually does fry. It's real frying, even though it's surrounded by air and not oil.
Friends, the air fryer, so-called, is actually a turbo-charged mini convection oven. Why does that matter? In a regular oven, you heat the air in a closed chamber to a certain temperature, say 360 F. Because the air is still, the same air molecules (more or less) are always in contact with the food surface. The food, naturally, is much cooler than 360 F. It absorbs the heat from the air molecules touching it. Those air molecules are now cooler than 360 F. They absorb heat from the molecules next to them. And so on. Gradually, this bucket brigade of heat makes the food hot.
A convection oven, on the other hand, brings the air to the same temperature — 360 F in this case — but it heats the food much, much faster. That's because it has a fan blowing the air around. You don't have to wait for one molecule of air to heat the next to heat the next. The air blows around past the heater, then against the food, heating it.
An air fryer is a tiny convection oven. The heating element is very near to the food, so the air is still really hot when it blows from one to the other.
So far, that explains how an air fryer can bake or roast things. How can it fry chicken? Because chicken has a lot of fat in its skin. Healthy fat, by the way. Chicken has way more monounsaturated fat or poluunsaturated fat than saturated. Similar to, oh I don't know…an avocado. Surprise.
But, I digress.
To fry chicken, you need to get the skin to 360 F. With deep frying, you get a pot full of oil to 360 (or just over, because the chicken itself will cool down the oil) and. With the air fryer, you get the air to 360 F. Because you're blowing it against the chicken, and then past the heating element again to heat it up, the air is always at 360 F, for all practical purposes.
That's hot enough for the fat in the skin to fry. Hot enough for the meat to cook. No additional oil required.
Air Fryer Fried Chicken
- Chicken thighs (or other pieces)
- Lawry's seasoned salt (or just salt)
- All-purpose flour (optional)
- Place the chicken pieces in a bowl or container big enough to hold at least 2 quarts. It should be big enough that you can shake the pieces.
- Sprinkle generously with salt or seasoned salt. Shake the container as you sprinkle until you get about 1/3 to 1/2 coverage over the surface. Don't worry about making it too salty. The salt makes the chicken juicy (not just adding salt flavor) and any excess will be left behind in the bowl.
- Set your air dryer to 360 F to preheat. Set the timer to 40 minutes.
- (Skip to the next step if you want lower carb count.) Place about 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour in a tub that holds about two quarts. Add the chicken pieces. Snap on lid. Shake to coat.
- Put the pieces in air fryer. Let it cook. Flip the pieces over every 10 minutes.