Our society today is constantly battling itself over doing things that feel good, and doing things that are good for you. While this is true in most aspects of life, the the one I’ll be focusing on today deals with cooking. Most everyone loves fried food – the crispy texture, the rich flavor, the great color, all of those things contribute to our obsession with all things fried. I say obsession, because in America that’s what it seems like anymore – there are restaurants devoted to frying things (one I saw on Food allowed customers to bring in anything and they would fry it for them), there are commercials talking about who’s French fries are fried the best, and there are county fairs that show off more and more ridiculous things to fry each year (I just saw deep fried Kool Aid this year as an example). So is there a way to enjoy the parts of fried foods that we love, and cut out the feeling (and negative health aspects) of sucking on a stick of fat? The geniuses at T-Fal would like to think so, and they’re hoping that the Actifry will be the spark necessary to start a revolution in how we enjoy our fried favorites.
The basic claim of the Actifry is that it can fry pretty much anything that will fit in its bowl with only one tablespoon of the oil of your choosing. To illustrate this, T-Fal shows two pounds of the most perfectly cooked French fries on their website, and that really got me excited about seeing how this worked. The main thing that appealed to me was that you could use any oil you choose – while it wouldn’t be economical to fill a deep fryer with olive oil, using a tablespoon to cook a meal would be great, as I use more than that in most meals anyways (I’m a huge fan of olive oil).
The Actifry looks like some crazy futuristic ice cream machine – it has a non-stick bowl, with a oddly shaped stirrer in the center of it. The premise is simple – that stirrer continually moves the food around, ensuring that a little oil hits everything while very hot air does the cooking. One of the biggest differences between the Actifry and a traditional deep fryer is how long cooking takes. With your normal, run of the mill Fry Daddy, two pounds of French fries would take about three minutes to cook. In the Actifry however, that same two pounds of fries takes a whopping thirty minutes – for those not good with math, that’s ten times the amount of time, so if you’re cooking for a lot of people this isn’t really the way to go (as many people will be waiting forever for their portions). Another thing that you’ll notice as soon as you turn it on, is that it will probably the the loudest item in your kitchen. Sounding like a hair dryer (which if you think about it, it basically is), this thing can be heard two rooms away, letting everyone know when you’re using it.
I tried a number of different recipes that I found not only in the instruction manual, but also all over the internet in order to give it a good work out for this review. From the simple hash browns with onions and peppers, to fried honey glazed apples – I made sure to put as much stuff in it as I could, much to the happiness of my family. For the first half of the cooking time you’d be hard pressed to actually tell that the Actifry was doing anything more than just stirring the food. It will still look completely raw, although it will have a very light sheen of oil on it. Almost like magic though, once that halfway point hits you can start seeing things start to change, and you can smell the cooking happening. It’s a crazy process that I watched many times just to make sure I was seeing it right.
Little by little, the colors of what your cooking will change into that golden brown we know and love, and then you’ll know things are done. A word of warning though – make sure NOT to over cook things in the Actifry. They get incredibly dry (found this out doing chicken fried rice; the rice was fine, but the chicken turned to cardboard), and even a few minutes too long can ruin an entire meal. Setting the timer and listening to when it goes off isn’t something I normally do, but it is super important on this thing. Oh I almost forgot, using the Actifry is incredibly simple – so simple that literally anyone can do it. There isn’t any meddling with temperatures or anything like that – one button turns the thing on and off and there is one that handles the timer. That’s it – push the button, close the lid, cook, profit.
So how well does the Actifry actually cook? Well to be honest, it varied from dish to dish. I tried some pierogies in it, and for the most part they turned out as they would had I pan fried them, however some of them ended up splitting and dumping their contents throughout the Actifry. The honey glazed apples I made though turned out marvelous – until I used a high moisture apple and then they turned to applesauce (although a damn tasty applesauce). Fried mushrooms came out literally perfect. French fries turned out the best of anything, ending up with a beautifully golden color that was uniform throughout. What was really nice is that you can add different seasonings during the cooking (like garlic or cajun seasonings) and have the flavor cook in to the food. It really brings something new to cooking.
The Bottom Line: The Actifry is a great choice if you want to start cutting down on how much oil goes into your diet and want to still have the experience of fried foods, but it does have a high price tag and a few issues to be aware of before jumping in.
- Works as it says it will for most foods
- Only using a tablespoon (or less) of oil to cook a meal with is extremely healthy
- Being able to use your own oils like olive or sunflower is a lot better than using vegetable oil all the time
- The Actifry is incredibly loud
- It takes a long time to cook things – much longer than other methods
- Can dry out foods very quickly after the recommended time
You can pick up T-Fal’s Actifry from Amazon for $249.99