The T-fal Actifry promises to fry your favorite foods using just 1 tbsp of oil. Being an avid fan of deep fried miracles including chicken wings, onion rings and french fries, I just had to try it out.
$300 - Out for about a year in the UK, just hitting the US market.
I've described the Actifry to friends as an ice cream maker combined with a convection oven. Basically, it's a big nonstick pan equipped with a constantly rotating silicone stirrer. You load all the food into the pan, drizzle it with a relatively small amount of oil and then close the clear lid. The controls include just two buttons—one for on/off, one for a timer. Fired up, hot air blows around making it sound, as you might expect, like a weak hairdryer. The idea is that the air blows the oil around and cooks the food while the spatula keeps everything cooking evenly.
I put the Actifry through three crucial tests, constantly questioning whether it was better than a convection oven. The first, chicken wings (buffalo style), because you can't generally duplicate a the crunch of a fried wing in the oven. The second, sweet potato fries. (Battered food like onion rings will just gunk up the system, so I settled for something that's also pretty difficult to oven fry.) And last, I made straight french fries—the devices biggest selling point by far.
I tossed, I don't remember how many, chicken wings into the machine. I sprinkled them with a pinch of paprika and a tbsp of oil, then I let the machine go to work. 30 or so minutes later, I smelled that the chicken was done. And I had to admit, the pieces were a beautiful golden brown.
So I took a bite and...they were chewy, just as if I'd baked em. And actually, a bit overcooked as well, since I was going more for texture than taste.
Sweet Potato Fries
Traditionally, good sweet potato fries are considered difficult to make—even ordering them off a restaurant menu can be a crap shoot. I actually make great sweet potato fries in the oven, baking them for about 20 minutes before throwing the switch on convection to give each fry a bubbly, slightly crisp skin. Theoretically, the Actifry would cook the potatoes in a similar manner.
Theoretically. What I got, and it's tough to see here, was basically a pile of fry-shaped mush. It tasted fine—you can't really screw up a sweet potato—but the fries were limp and occasionally pulverized by the spatula. (The lamb chops, btw, were delicious.)
At this point, the honeymoon is over. The Actifry is as big as a crock pot, and so far, it's basically just a crock. But I'm willing to let it all pass if the Actifry is the ultimate healthy french fry machine. A decent fry can be baked, but getting the texture perfect, like a shattering yet silky crème brûlée or crusty yet gooey french bread, is an art tough to match by oven alone.
After cutting Idahos as equally as possible and rinsing away the extra starch, I fired up the Actifry, almost nervously, on behalf of T-fal.
What came out roughly half an hour later was admittedly good. Taking the first bite, I was surprised by the decent balance of crispness and mushy innards. The golden color wasn't uniform, but I don't mind a few extra crispy bites in my french fries, and had I attempted fries again, I may have let them cook even longer (and risked breaking them down for super crispiness).
Still, munching through the plate of potatoes with my wife, I realized 2 things. One, I'm not sure this is significantly better than what I could do in an oven (with an oil mister and a bit of flipping). And, two, I'm not sure this is significantly easier than what I could do with an oven. (After all, I still peeled and cut up a few fresh potatoes.)
Winner: Actifry...by a nose.
The Actifry isn't necessarily a bad idea or a bad product, it's just a product that 99% of us don't need—and it's hard to imagine that it really sells for $300. For french fries, I'd say it's a bit superior to what the average Joe can pull off in an oven (results vary, I'm sure, resident chef-types). But most of the fried goodness you want to eat can be bastardized just as well with equipment you already own, if not better.
Or, you know, there's always the option to actually cook foods by submerging them in hot fat. Deep frying is about as simple as cooking gets, if a bit messy and unhealthy. [T-fal]
Cooks decent french fries
Can't cook much else
Costs $300 more than the oven you already own