In a perfect fantasy world, the best things for our body would be the things we like to eat the most — superfood french fries, high-protein ice cream. The Philips Viva Collection Digital Airfryer ($299) promises to partially deliver that fantasy: deep-fried food for 80 percent less fat. The promise of fried flavor sans the bath of fatty oils piqued enough interest for a preliminary fry.
Turns out, the Airfryer is less a deep fryer and more a mini convection oven. Philips labels the product a “low fat fryer” and “multicooker”, but the machine does all its cooking by means of a high-speed fan that circulates hot air. It’s a rapid, controlled, efficient convection oven. That demystifies alluring “deep fryer without the oil!” idea and sets expectations straight.
The white (or black) fryer is constructed with the weight and heft of a sturdy food processor, and it’s more than a small addition to a kitchen countertop or cabinet. The cord extends for about two feet, giving you some wiggle room for finding an outlet. It’s a simple enough machine to use: the interface is one digital display and four buttons — power, start/stop, and two arrows to toggle temperature and time up and down. A drawer pulls out by the front handle, and inside is a removable tray and a rack for extra cooking.
For functionality, the machine lands squarely in the middle between deep frier and a conventional oven.
On power-up, the temperature is preset at 390 degrees Fahrenheit and moves up and down in 30 degree increments. Preheating offers the most concise cooking times, and the machine heats up in about 3 minutes flat. It’s not a quiet machine; the fan motor whirls with around the same white noise level as a window fan set on high. While cooking, a rear exhaust window expels the excess air, and there’s the pungent scent of food being cooked. Adding food requires removing the basket by the handle then entering your contents as the open face whirls: It brings with it the same uneasiness of letting out hot air from the oven, but the process didn’t appear to affect cooking. It’s a quick hot box. For some foods, like fries, it’s best to shuffle the basket a few times while cooking; on a normal 12-minute cook, I’d shake at 4-minute intervals. It’s a minor inconvenience, but something to note. Temperature and time are adjustable while cooking, which is convenient, and when the cooking is complete, the machine turns off automatically to prevent overcooking.
As for functionality, the machine lands squarely in the middle between deep frier and conventional oven. You’ll miss the flavor infusion of deep friers as well as the golden crisp of food cooked in a hot oil bath (onion rings are not the same). But by the same token, you are left with a quickly cleaned two-part basket and base, rather than a vat of hot oil and a stove covered in its spray. The Airfryer outperforms your traditional oven, but it’s significantly smaller with its 1.8-pound capacity — and you’ll need to stay below that capacity for pure results.
It felt a little like soy ice cream: you appreciate the concept, but it’s no replacement for the real thing.
With meals for two or less, you’re fine — but fries for the whole family would have to be done in stages (or better fit for the XL Version, with its 2.65-pound capacity). And unfortunately for people who enjoy big filets of meat or fish, I couldn’t find a worthwhile cut that would fit inside the 7 x 7-inch tray.
And now for the food itself: The easiest application, and the one I returned to the most, is frozen foods like french fries and sweet potato puffs. These cooked quickly, holding a solid crisp without drying out. Pigs in a blanket turned out well, and chicken wings cook up with a crunch. But for dry flour frying (don’t go there) and wet coatings, the cooking was reminiscent of a deep fry but lacked that pleasurable hit of flavor that comes from an oil-drenched object. It felt a little like soy ice cream — you appreciate the concept, but it’s no replacement for the real thing: the joy of deep fried layers of crispy dough bronzed in oil. The Philips Airfryer offers a healthy replacement when that splurge isn’t in order, but overall this rule stuck: it’s quicker, faster, and better than the oven, but doesn’t quite quench the need for a good, hearty, deep fat fry.