Towards the end of 2014, we went for the Tefal Actifry 1kg, which is their second generation fryer with the part white part clear lid. At the time, I never tasted chips cooked by one or any other air fryer and was initially concerned after poor experience with oven chips and other ways of making chips in the oven.
At the time, we were getting fed up cleaning the greasy gunk off our deep fat fryer and of course looking for a way of cutting down on excess fat even though we only typically have chips twice a week. The other reported advantage was that it could cook sausages without having to keep turning them every few minutes.
Like most new products, it took a couple of uses to work out how to best cook chips as the process is a little different to a deep fryer. The main thing that caught us by surprise is that it takes roughly 40 minutes to cook a typical 750g batch of frozen chips, compared to 1/3 that time in a deep fryer. Even frozen oven chips take 30 to 35 minutes for a full load. Then again, there’s no preheat period, so it’s just a matter of filling it with chips, switching it on and timing the rest of the food to be cooked accordingly.
After a year of use, we noticed a couple of other nice benefits compared to using a deep fat fryer. Besides not having to buy and dispose of containers of oil, there’s no periodic oil changes, let alone the tedious removal of baked on grease, at least with our usage. After frying a batch of chips, the main pan just needs a quick wipe after use and it’s ready to be put away in a few minutes as there’s no oil to cool down. There’s no plume of steam, so it does not make the place smell like a chippie or place greasy residue on cabinets. It doesn’t need to be placed under a cooker hood either.
Besides longer cooking times than a deep fryer, we only really noticed two drawbacks. The first is the size of the fryer is considerably wider than most deep fryers and is even longer than the professional-style stainless steel deep fryer we had. As a result, it may not fit in some cabinets, especially considering this is the basic 1kg model and it’s available in capacities up to 1.5kg. The second drawback is that’s about as noisy as a hair dryer, which could be an issue when watching TV or operating while other people are asleep in the house.
Our main use for it is frozen chips, mainly the standard 2.5kg of frying chips sold by Lidl and Aldi. Regardless of the frozen chips, the cooking times mainly affect the outcome. A smaller batch of chips tends to lead to crispier chips similar to those purchased at a takeaway. With larger batches, they tend to get a little chewy by the time they get crispy.
With the normal cooking time (e.g. 40 minutes for a 750g batch), the chips look just like they came out of a deep fryer. They taste a little drier than deep fried chips, mainly due to the lack of grease, but certainly nothing like the chewy or dry taste of oven baked chips. If I was presented these not knowing where they came from, I probably would have said a deep fryer as they’re not far off.
With shorter cooking times (e.g. 30 minutes for a 750g batch), the chips come out soft and give the impression that they are takeaway chips that were in a paper bag for a few minutes.
While longer cooking times generally make the chips crispier, they also tend to get chewy on the inside, similar to reheating deep fried chips that were left to cool. Unlike a deep fryer, they generally don’t darken as much, so browning colour does not always give a good indication as to how they’ll taste. So for those who like their chips extra crunchy, this is one case where an air fryer may be a let-down unless they opt for thin / shoestring chips.
Update 16th Feb ’17: Tip – To get improve the taste of frying chips, I suggest adding a full spoon of sunflower oil for a full batch using the included spoon. For 3 portions, this still works out about 4g added fat, less than buttering a slice of bread.
Thin/shoestring chips – These generally give the best results and often tend to come out just like they were done in a deep fryer. They also cook a quicker than standard chips, roughly 20 to 25 minutes for a full tray of about 500g.
Steakhouse chips – These typically cook just like regular chips, taking the equivalent length of time. Personally I prefer the taste of these from a regular deep fryer, although adding a spoonful of oil for a 750g batch helps improve the taste. Generally, we don’t go for this variety, so this is not an issue.
Oven chips (or 3 way chips) – These cook a little quicker than regular frying chips (e.g. 30 to 35 minutes for 750g) and come out a lot better than doing them in the oven. With the right timing, they give the closest taste to deep fried chips from the air fryer, but then again, these chips typically have a higher fat content for oven baking, so are unlikely any healthier than a deep fryer. However, this method still provides the other advantages of using an air fryer such as those outlined at the start of this article, e.g. no oil changes.
Home made chips
Despite the lengthy procedure the manual mentions, personally I find that fresh chips don’t come out any different whether they are rinsed once or multiple times and whether they’re put in wet or dried as much as possible. Like frozen chips, the outcome is mainly affected by the type/quality of the potatoes, quantity and cooking time.
In comparison to deep frying, the Actifry is more straight forward: Once cut, give them a good rinse in a bowl of cold water, place them in the fryer, sprinkle a spoon of cooking oil over them using the provided spoon and switch on. As the machine operates using a hot air blower, this dries them off pretty quick at the start and personally I haven’t noticed them come out any less crisp than tediously drying all the chips in towels and paper towels as the manual insists on doing.
A 1kg batch makes roughly the same amount of time as 750g of frozen chips as the fresh chips shrink during cooking. This quantity takes roughly 40 minutes to cook. Depending on the potatoes, these can come out really nice or soft/chewy for poor quality potatoes. Generally if the potatoes are firm where the freshly cut chips are stiff, they generally cook very well. However, if the potatoes are watery while slicing and the freshly cut chips sag, then this a sure sign they well come out soft and chewy, even if well dried with paper towels before cooking.
Unlike a deep fryer, home made chips cook in a single stage and generally don’t over brown before reaching the desired crispiness. So once the unit is switched on, it can be left for the cooking time and then they’re ready to serve.
What to watch out for
As soon as the chips are ready, the cover must be opened straight away. It only takes a minute or two with the cover closed for the chips to go soft. Even if the machine is then switched on for a few minutes, the chips will then go chewy.
With the cover open, the chips will generally keep for about five minutes before cooling too much. However, they generally maintain their crispiness unlike trying to keep them warm with the cover down.
So just like deep fried chips, the rest of the food should be timed such that the chips are served last or at the same time.
Sausages – Sausages splatter during cooking and its grease is sticky like when using a frying pan, so clean-up takes longer than cooking most other foods. On the other hand, we find this a minor inconvenience compared to standing in front of the cooker turning them regularly.
Update 16th Feb ’17: Beef sausages can be tedious to clean up after cooking in the Actifry with the grease baking on, particularly if the machine is left to full cool down. Pork sausages on the other hand don’t have this issue and the grease is easily wiped off. So avoid using the Actifry for beef sausages.
Mixing food – Although some reviews mention that chips can be mixed with other sausages and other fast foods, this can actually lead to greasy chips. Sausages give off quite a surprising amount of grease when cooked in the Actifry, about half a cup of fat for 16 beef sausages.
As frozen chips take up most of the capacity in our 1kg model, it’s only possible to mix other foods when cooking for one or two people. Generally the only fast food we would mix would be chicken nuggets as these are the least likely to release excess grease.
There are air fryers that have separate baskets / levels for cooking multiple foods simultaneously. However, with their high cost, we just bake the extra food in the oven or with the microwave operating in convection-only mode. This way the Actifry uses most of its heat cooking the chips rather than multiple types of food.
Other fast food
This will fry most fast food items that can be placed in a deep fryer such as chicken nuggets, onion rings, wedges and sausages. There’s an optional basket available for cooking delicate items like battered sausages, spring rolls, Indian snacks and small breaded/battered fish.
Most of this food cooks with the crispness of a deep fryer and we generally prefer the taste over being cooked in an oven, especially with spring rolls and Indian snacks. As no oil is required, these are in turn healthier than being deep fried and also overcomes the issue of crumbs building up in the oil. Cooking times are similar to being baked in a fan oven, but without the added time of preheating.
The cleaning process and effort depends on the food that was cooked in it.
Chips – Unlike a deep fryer, the Actifry is very straight forward to clean after cooking a batch of chips. The tray and paddle just need a light washing and drying and the machine is ready to put away. The transparent window just needs cleaning periodically, which again just needs to be wiped.
Breaded/Battered food – This type of food can lead to crumbles building up under the paddle, which is hallow below. A bristle brush easily dislodges them and then the paddle and tray can be given a light washing as with chips.
Pork Sausages – These splatter during cooking and leave a thin layer of oil at the bottom of the tray after cooking much like a frying pan. The oil can be poured out into a waste oil container and the cleaning process is much the same as washing a frying pan, although the paddle also needs to be washed. The inside of the hood including the transparent window just need a light wiping to remove the splattered grease.
Beef Sausages – These splatter with grease baking on during the cooking process. Clean-up can be quite tedious, much like cleaning a roasting dish, especially the paddle. I suggest not doing beef sausages in the Actifry as it also tends to break the sausages, unlike the thinner pork sausages.
Optional basket – This is fairly easy to clean such as with a bristle brush to remove crumbs. The try below also requires a quick wipe to remove crumbs and drippings that fall below.