I started out as a reluctant air-fryer user, thinking that the mini convection oven with its powerful blasts of hot air was nothing more than well, hot air. But since using and reviewing air-fryers for Cooking Light magazine, I’ve grown to like it a lot. On a regular basis, we use our air-fryer to roast nuts, tortilla chips, crispy shrimp and other little snack foods. Interestingly, through using the air-fryer, I’ve widened my perspective on how food may get cooked. The machine works 30 to 40 percent faster and at a lower temperature than normal ovens and convection ovens. (Air-frying on regular temperatures and for regular amounts of time would create desiccated, burnt food!)
Manipulating and efficiently circulation heat is elemental to cooking. It’s what we do when we’re grilling, roasting, frying, simmering, braising, boiling, etc. An air-fryer can’t simmer, braise and boil but it can do interesting things in the realm of grilling, roasting, and frying.
Among my recent air-frying experiments were two recipes plucked from Air Fry Every Day, a new book by Ben Mims, a former test kitchen director of Lucky Peach and food editor at Saveur and Food and Wine. It’s a book that’s great for small spaces (apartments, dorm rooms, campers!) because Ben uses very little equipment to make the 75 recipes. The recipes are not fussy.
Last week, I wondered what it would be like to cook most of our dinner in the Cuisinart Convection Oven and Air-Fryer (it’s roomy, powerful, and can do more than air-fry). I chose Ben’s recipes for Chile Rubbed Steak steak and General Tso’s Broccoli “Fried” Rice. Here’s how things air-fried:
Air-fried Chile Rubbed Steak
Typically, I panfry steaks in a carbon-steel skillet, like this one. The very hot metal sears and locks in umami fast and I get a lovely crust on the outside. Ben’s air-fried steak recipe called for coating the steak in an intensely flavored rub of: 1 1/2 teaspoons chile powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground espresso, 1 1/2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I used fine sea salt because I like a saltier finish), and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. I used two one-inch thick sirloin cap steaks (8 ounces each), which is a flavorful, often fattier part of the top sirloin; ask your butcher for the cut which looks like a big, long tear-drop or comma.
After air-frying for 7 to 8 minutes at 400F and resting for 10 minutes, the results were phenomenal, and I didn’t dirty up the stove. I overcooked the steaks a tiny bit but they were still juicy and flavorful. The key, Ben points out, is making sure the meat is at room temperature so it won’t seize up under the heat blast of air-frying. The sugar and espresso and ground chile create a great exterior that browned incredibly well. The fat on the steak was sizzling and bubbling from the air-frying, something I would expect from a steak house with a super-hot oven. Total winner.
General Tso’s Broccoli “Fried” Rice
The “fried” rice involved air-frying lightly oiled and seasoned rice and broccoli. I didn’t expect results like what I get in my wok because that’s a different mode of cooking that combines frying and high-heat searing. However, I also didn’t expect crispy grains of rice, like as if I had deep fried them!
The result from air-frying the rice reminded me of fancy grain bowls at popular restaurants like Sqirl, Baroo and Destroyer in Los Angeles where chefs deep-fry rice, quinoa and the like. I was thrilled that Ben’s air-fried crispy rice easily mimicked that level of cheffy-ness. He hints at it in the recipe headnote (introduction) but I didn’t realize how close he’d come to producing the grease-less, crisp results in a $200 hyper-active toaster oven. It was a great way to transform an ingredient, and it basically boiled down to having intensely-hot heat whirling around the food.
I used fancy broccoli for the “fried” rice and the spindly florets fried to a bittersweet crisp. Shop for broccolini if you want broccoli that will do that; if purchased mine at our farmers’s market. That said, regular broccoli will be fine too; it will air-fry to a texture that’s more chewy than crisp.
The original recipe produced a lot of sauce so I halved the quantities in my adaption below; I also added a little balsamic and sugar to nudge the sauce flavors close to what I like in a General Tso’s chicken (see my air-fried GT chicken recipe at Cooking Light). There’s still leftover sauce but that’s no problem since the sauce keeps well for 2 weeks so you can air-fry more rice or use it for other dishes, which I’m now pondering.
My husband made a green salad to round out our air-fried meal of steak and fried rice. It was fun and eye-opening to air-fry most of dinner. Ben’s book has many more recipes that I want try (air-fried Churro Beignets!) and learn from. If you’re into air-frying, Air Fry Every Day is definitely worth having and cooking from. There’s plenty to motivate you to air-fry often.
More Air-Fried recipes:
- Air-fried Salt and Pepper Tofu
- Air-fried Sweet and Sour Ribs
- Air-fried General Tso’s Chicken (at Cooking Light)
General Tso’s Broccoli “Fried” Rice
Yield 1 or 2 servings
If you're not having the steak as described in the main blog post, add a soft boiled egg or fried egg to the bowl. Or, enjoy the rice with some tofu to keep the meal vegan.
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- 4 ounces (1 to 2 cups) broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch wide pieces
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- Kosher salt and recently ground black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons packed light or dark brown sugar (optional, for a sweet tang)
- 1 large clove garlic, minced or put through a press
- 1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated (1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional for deep flavor)
- 1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
- In a bowl, combine the rice, broccoli, vegetable oil and sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat evenly in the oils. Transfer to a 7-inch round cake pan insert, metal cake pan, or foil pan.
- Place the pan in the air fryer and cook at 350F, stirring every 5 minutes, until lightly toasted and crunchy, 10 to 12 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a saucepan, whisk together the pepper flakes, cornstarch, sugar, garlic, ginger, stock, tomato paste, vinegars (rice and balsamic), and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer, then cook until reduced and thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce cool while the rice and broccoli cook.
- Remove the pan from the air-fryer and transfer the rice and broccoli to one or two bowls, then drizzle with some of the sauce. Mix things up before eating. Save extra sauce in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Adapted from Air Fry Every Day by Ben Mims (Potter 2018)
Courses Lunch, dinner