Thursday, December 10, 2020

Fry, Fry Away


So the item I had to sit on my hands for this Black Friday--which unfortunately lasted a whole month this year--was an air fryer. Now, I've been bucking the trend on air fryer's for a few years now. If you haven't seen one of these popular items in person, let me fill you in. They are very large and the size of the cooking basket is very small. I tried a friend's in what seemed to be the most popular size, and the basket was adequate for maybe two people. They do have large ones, which are about the size of my microwave. I have very limited counter space, so even the kitchen appliances I use almost weekly like my KitchenAid mixer, Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) and Crock Pot need to remain stashed elsewhere. And, the elsewhere space is in short supply too. In the past couple of years a better option has emerged-- the air fryer ovens. Essentially, they are toaster ovens with an air fry feature. This seemed reasonable to me, but I replaced my toaster oven not so long ago. Lastly, there is a lid you can buy for the Instant Pot that turns your Instant Pot into an air fryer. The catch is it costs about as much as a dedicated air fryer. The draw of this is you don't need to have an entirely different product taking up space in your kitchen.

When I tested my friend's fryer I made egg rolls, crispy tofu and breaded chicken fingers. What I learned is:

1) It is not oil free. I was surprised by the amount of oil the recipes called for to be brushed on the food.

2) You have to turn the food every few minutes. The egg rolls were the most amazing product of all. But, I wondered if it was worth it just for one amazing dish. Could I buy eggrolls every so often and be just as happy with the end product?

3) See 2 above. For people on special diets tools like an air fryer, which produce food that's hard to find in restaurants as gluten free or allergen free may be worthwhile.

4) As previously mentioned, the basket on the air fryer is small. For a normal family dinner I would have to do many batches.  So although the chicken fingers came out good, they weren't markedly better than when I oven fry a large quantity on a cookie sheet.

5) The tofu came out not terribly different than when I oven fried it, and was a bit more styrofoamy in texture.

Trying to keep the negatives in mind, I survived another Black Friday and Cyber Monday without an air fryer. But, I do love a crispy crunch. What I figured out is that most of the things coming out of the air fryer were similar to my tried and true convection-oven frying method. In fact, many reviewers mention that an air fryer is essentially a convection oven, which uses a fan to circulate heat evenly throughout the oven. 

My tried and true method is cooking spray (or oil) below, cooking spray above and high heat. The general rule is that for convection ovens you set the temperature 25 degrees below the desired temperature. So if the recipe calls for baking the dish at 400F degrees, you will set the convection bake to 375F degrees. If you don't have the convection feature, it's generally fine too. Just make sure the baking tray is set in the middle of the oven and has nothing above it to hinder crisping.

For Chanukah, it's customary to eat foods deep fried in oil to remember the miracle G-d did for the Jews who managed to capture and rededicate the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after it was desecrated by their enemies. They found only one small vial of consecrated oil to light the menorah, but it miraculously lasted for 8 days--the time it was needed to produce new oil.  That generally translates to latkes and donuts in modern times. I personally hate deep frying. I find the smell invasive, the process somewhat scary, but the resulting food delicious albeit tough to digest.  This oven fried smashed potato appetizer is a great substitute for the heavier, traditional latke. Bonus, it also requires no grating of the potatoes!  I pair it with tzatziki a Greek yogurt and cucumber dip, which cuts the oily taste with a nice hit of acid from the yogurt and lemon juice.

So whether you fry, air fry, or oven fry, enjoy your special holiday foods with those that are special to you.

You may use plain non-dairy yogurt or non-dairy sour cream, such as Tofutti brand, as a substitute for the Greek yogurt in this recipe. If you substitute a regular cucumber for the cucumbers called for in this recipe, deseed before chopping.  An air fryer may be used instead of the oven cooking method. Follow your manufacturer's recommended settings for french fries, and adjust according to doneness of potatoes. This is an attractive dish as an hors d'oeuvres or an appetizer.

Easy Crispy Smashed Potatoes and Tzatziki Appetizer

12 small Yukon Gold or New potatoes

1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)

sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste


2 Persian cucumbers (or 1/2 an English cucumber), unpeeled, diced

Juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 1-1/2 Tbsp.), more to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh, chopped dill, additional to garnish

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or non-dairy sour cream or plain yogurt)

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

For Potatoes:

Pre-heat convection oven to 425F degrees (if using a regular oven, set at 450F degrees).  Spray a non-stick cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray.

Wash and dry potatoes. Poke in several places with a fork. Set on a microwave safe plate and cook on high for 4-5 minutes until soft. If your microwave has a "Potato" button, use that.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.

Transfer potatoes to a flat surface between two sheets of parchment paper or foil. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, or a frying pan, flatten each potato to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer to prepared cookie sheet using a spatula. 

Mix together olive oil, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Brush on top of potatoes.  

Bake in pre-heated oven for 10 to 15 minutes until tops appear golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to serving tray.

For Tzatziki:

Mix together all the ingredients for tzatziki and place in a plastic container or covered bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve:

Arrange potatoes on serving plate. Top with a dollop of tzatziki. Garnish with dill sprig.

Yield: 1 dozen