Saturday, August 4, 2012

Does the Actifry really work?

I first heard of the brand T-Fal when I was a kid. I was walking through a department store with my parents and I was absolutely fascinated by someone doing a live demonstration of the then-innovative cookware with a mysterious and magical nonstick coating.

I had no idea why my parents didn't stop right there and buy a set of cookware. But they didn't.

Since then, the company has expanded its product line to include all sorts of interesting electronics. One caught my eye quite some time ago: the ActiFry.

I'd seen reviews of it on a few blogs, but I was skeptical. Yeah, whatever, you can make french fries with almost no oil. Sure you can. And I can make ice cream with no fat or sugar... but it wouldn't be all that good. The ActiFry promotes itself as a healthier way to cook, since you don't need all that oil to fry the food in.

The health issue wasn't my concern. Rather, I hate buying that much oil and getting so little use from it. Of course I can use the oil several times, but I don't want to store it. So I end up making several different fried things over the course of a week. Then I still need to throw out a whole lot of oil.

When the ActiFry arrived, the first thing I did was prep some potatoes to make french fries. I'll bet that's what MOST people do when they get an ActiFry. I mean, that's the important test, right?

Potatoes cooked in the ActiFry
It was about as simple as it could get. Rinse the starch off, dry the fries, add some oil to the ActiFry, throw the potatoes in and press the button. There's also a timer, but it doesn't turn the machine off, so you need to pay attention.

The french fries came out like ... well, french fries. I didn't need to drain grease off of them like I would if I had deep fried them, but otherwise they were french fries. How... odd.

Next, I made potato wedges using some new potatoes. I threw caution to the wind (well, okay, I was in a rush) so I didn't bother with the rinsing and drying - I just cut them, tossed them into the ActiFry, glugged in some oil, and cooked them until they were tender. They were really, really good.

Next up, I tried some chicken wings. Since the food in the ActiFry gets stirred while it cooks, you can't really bread or batter wings before you cook them, but that's fine. I'm not crazy about a lot of breading, anyway.

The wings were nice. Not as exciting as french fries, but they were good wings. And easy. Adding sauce at the end was pretty easy too, since the stirring action spread the sauce on all the wings, so they were pretty evenly coated.

The book that came with the ActiFry had a bunch of recipes, but really, anything that needs to be stirred during cooking - or that can tolerate stirring - will work well in the ActiFry. It's not the perfect cooking vessel for everything, but there is no such thing as one perfect cooking vessel.

There were a couple recipes for rice, but they were hit-or-miss for me. I suspect it's not the ActiFry, but that I live at high altitude. Rice just doesn't behave here well. It needs a different rice-water ratio for normal cooking, and then there are adjustments for different types of rice, which makes it even more complicated.

I haven't had the ActiFry long enough to figure out the right water-rice ratio. Since it cooks using hot blowing air, evaporation has to be taken into account, so my normal ratios aren't quite right. I'm guessing the recipes in the book work better at sea level. I do like the idea of using it for a risotto, since that needs to be stirred a lot, for a long time. I'll be working on that correct ratio using a risotto rice. It could be really useful for that.

On the dry side of things, there are recipes for making things like granola, which is pretty cool, since that's something that needs stirring to cook evenly. On the wet side, there are recipes for saucy things like marinara.

But let's be honest. In my house, this thing is going to be all about the potatoes. It makes me pretty happy that I can have french fries any time I want them, without dealing with all that oil. Everything else it does is a bonus.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the product for the purposes of this review.
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