By Joanne Gould and Imogen Blake For Mailonline
Published: 08:31 EST, 9 December 2016 | Updated: 09:15 EST, 9 December 2016
We all know fried food isn’t exactly good for us - or is it?
A new breed of fryers are using hot air alone instead of oil to produce perfect, golden and crispy fried foods without the faff and safety hazards of a deep fat fryer.
But can hot air really cook the perfect chip as well as a traditional fryer? Clearly some people believe so as dozens of models are on the shelves for up to £220.
But healthy food needn’t cost the earth, with Lidl recently jumping on the air frying bandwagon and releasing a model for just £59.99.
We asked Femail writer Joanne Gould to try it out and see if it can perform as well as an £100 rival.
We asked Femail writer Joanne Gould (pictured) to try out the new £59.99 hot air fryer from Lidl (right) to see if it can perform as well as an £100 rival from Philips (left)
I’ve eyed air fryers with interest since the first models started appearing a few years ago, and now these slick digital versions definitely have my attention. But, they don’t come cheap and I’ve read mixed reviews online, so I’m glad to have the chance to test them out for myself.
Lidl have sent me their model – the Silver Crest Hot Air Fryer – which I’ll be testing against the leading Philips Airfryer retailing at around £99.99.
Both are sleek, shiny black machines that sit on the worktop with a digital display (including presets for popular foods) and a removable basket within the main frying section. Both are non-stick, dishwasher friendly and seem pretty self explanatory.
I scour online forums and Amazon reviews to find the best foods to trial them with.
MEAL ONE: CHICKEN AND FROZEN CHIPS
Joanne said both hot air fryers cooked the chicken perfectly but they struggled to cook the chips, with Lidl's outperforming the Philips machine marginally
Joanna found that the hot air fryers cooked the chips far quicker than the packet instructions suggest
This is apparently the holy grail of things to cook in these machines, with users online stating that the chicken becomes both golden and crispy yet still perfectly moist and that using frozen chips will deliver a result similar to those straight from a fryer.
Forums are awash with people recommending low calorie cooking sprays for these, so I get myself one and spritz it all over the chicken and chips before seasoning.
Annoyingly I don’t think I can fit both the chicken and chips in the machines at the same time, so I cook the chicken first and plan to keep it warm in a low oven whilst the chips cook. The chicken takes no time at all to cook (about 13 minutes for a large leg and thigh) and looks fantastic.
I follow the instructions for the chips (12-16 minutes at 200C) but when I open the basket after 11 they’re really overdone in both of the machines – the Philips seems faster and hotter, so they’ve fared a bit worse and are too dry and hard. Next time I’d check them after 9 minutes. The chicken tastes as good as it looks and I’ll definitely use it for this again.
MEAL TWO: QUICHE AND ROASTED VEGETABLES
Joanne was surprised to find that a quiche can be cooked in the air fryers but she said both came out well, with Philips performing better
Lidl's machine failed to cook the vegetables evenly, with underdone courgettes and overcooked onions
I would never have thought to cook a quiche in one of these, but I guess as a kind of mini oven, it makes sense and both recipe booklets specify that quiche cooks well in them.
I’ve got a mini quiche that would normally take 20 minutes to warm in the oven. These machines both halve the time with a lovely non-soggy bottom, and the roasted veg that I’ve chucked in at the same time (would normally take 30 mins) takes just 10 to cook too – though not particularly evenly.
The veg in the Lidl machine is a bit stuck to the basket – maybe I should have put it in a dish to cook? The courgettes are also underdone, but the onions are turning black.
MEAL THREE: STEAK AND STUFFED MUSHROOM
Despite rave reviews about cooking steak in hot air fryers, Joanne was disappointed with the results from both machines
Joanne said both machines overcooked the steak and that the meat came out a strange grey colour
I’m sceptical about cooking a nice steak in these, but people rave about the results online, so I give it a bash.
I’ve got two rib eyes and normally I’d just flash them in a searing hot griddle pan with some butter for a few minutes and leave them to rest somewhere warm. The cooking guide suggests 15 minutes at 180C but I think a higher heat and less time would be better, so go for six minutes at 200C.
I haven’t added any oil, but the Philips machine keeps setting my smoke alarm off, which is annoying. At the end of the six minutes, the fat has still not had a chance to properly render down despite the high heat, and the steaks lack the colour and appeal they would normally.
The machines failed to cook the steak properly, and overcooked the meat until it was a grey colour
I leave them to rest whilst I cook the mushrooms – they should take 30 minutes in an oven, but thrillingly are done in 11. They're nicely roasted, the gruyere is melted and the breadcrumbs are crunchy and golden. Excellent.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said about the steaks, which have not improved with resting. They are greyish and taste of very little – a shame as the meat is good quality.
The machines lack the direct heat contact needed to seal and sear the meat and deliver the proper charred taste and crust that I like in a steak, yet still manage to cook the meat inside way past the point I like them.
MEAL FOUR: PIZZA
Joanne was really impressed with the results of cooking pizza in both fryers, and gave both machines a 10/10 score
Again, as this feels like a replacement for a deep fat fryer rather than an oven, I wouldn’t have naturally thought to cook a pizza in here, but I’ve seen a recipe for pizza dough on the Philips website, so give it a go.
The first problem is that both machines are so teeny that normal sized pizzas wouldn’t fit in here.
I buy some mini premade bases and top them with passata, mozzarella, chorizo and onion and guess at a cooking time of five minutes at 180C.
They are perfect – I’m so impressed. Melted, golden and with a lovely base that is well cooked but not brittle like you sometimes get in the oven.
There is no difference between the results of each machine for this test.
MEAL FIVE: BATTERED FISH AND HOMEMADE CHIPS
Joanne said the machines cooked battered fish perfectly and that the fish tasted as good as from a chippy
Joanne struggled to perfect chips in the hot air fryers, despite using the one cal spray recommended in online reviews
People are divided on whether breaded and battered foods do well in the air fryers. Some say it’s a fire hazard, and report smoke pouring out the machines, whereas others praise its ability to properly crisp up the coating.
I’ve got some large frozen battered cod fillets and test them out – they only just fit in the baskets and are supposed to take 32 minutes to oven bake.
I guess at 12 minutes at 180C and my goodness they look and smell incredible. There is no difference in the results for this one and both pieces of fish look like they could have come from the fish and chip shop.
For the chips, I’ve sprayed some Maris Pipers with the one cal spray everyone says to use with the air fryer.
I set them for 18 minutes as suggested, and keep checking them and shaking the basket every few minutes. The Philips machine takes less time – maybe two or three minutes less – and the chips are a tiny bit more golden and crispy than in the Lidl machine.
I’m not overly impressed with the chips – I think more trial and error is required to deliver a really great result, but I can’t get over how good the fish is. It really is almost as good as from the chippy.
MEAL SIX: ROAST PORK
Joanne learned you can cook roasting joints in the air fryer, but the results were not brilliant in either machine
Apparently you can cook small roasting joints in the air fryer, which is news to me.
I’ve got two small butterflied pork joints and try them out; the cooking time is halved, but some meats actually benefit from slower cooking and this is one example of that.
The pork is tougher than normal and a different texture to what I’d expect. The fact that the Philips machine has a rack is helpful in this case, but otherwise the results are pretty similar – the Lidl machine took maybe five minutes more to cook the meat through.
MEAL SEVEN: CANAPES
Both machines cooked puff pastry canapes very well, with both machines getting a 9/10 score
There are lots of recipes for pastry based goods, so I try cooking a few little frozen puff pastry canapes in the fryers.
They take very little time to cook as they’re so small – and still roughly half the time stated on the pack, with the Lidl fryer giving a slightly less golden result.
But really, if I’d have given them another minute the difference would have been imperceptible. A nice and quick way to cook pastry, leaving it light and non-greasy.
Joanne was impressed with both products, and said the Lidl machine was particularly good value at £59.99
Overall I’m pretty impressed with both products. I think if you use your oven frequently for cooking a lot of frozen food – especially battered – then this would definitely be a worthwhile investment, and the Lidl machine is particularly good value.
My bugbears were that the tray is so small that if you were cooking for any more than two people, you’d have to do it on rotation which would be time consuming and annoying.
Similarly, if you’re cooking a few different types of food in them one after the other, then you may find you need to clean the fryer each time.
Also, the benefit of these fryers is that the food is so golden, crisp and light coming straight out of the machine and you lose that if you have to keep portions of your meal warm in the oven to cook the rest.
I lost count of the times I had to open my kitchen patio doors to stop my smoke alarm going off from the heat of the Philips machine - very chilly in midwinter!
The fact that you can save a lot of calories and fat by cooking in these is a major plus point.The speed at which some things can be cooked is quite amazing too – being able to roast vegetables in a matter of minutes is great.
One point to be aware of is that because of how convenient the air fryers are, I’d worry that you could fall into a trap of having rather a lot of 'beige foo'’ and thinking it is healthy.
You’d need to be conscientious about eating fresh, unprepared foods rather than just reheating things like wedges, nuggets and the like. Still, I think I’m sold for the chicken alone.
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