Don’t Batter or You’ll Splatter!
Ask yourself a serious question: What do you expect from your shiny new air fryer?
Do you dream of juicy flakes of fish, steamed to perfection in a light and airy beer batter? Or perhaps you long for crispy cauliflower florets in a delicate tempura batter with a spicy sriracha and mayo dipping sauce?
If you are pining for either of these, you may be disappointed as I have to tell you that air frying and batter don’t get on.
The Problem with Batter
Batter is wet and this is an issue.
An air fryer is basically an extremely hot convection oven with a high speed fan which moves the heated air around inside the fryer very quickly. This is what ‘fries’ the food with only a little bit of oil.
But if you put a battered piece of fish into your machine and start air frying on the batter will be blown off by the high powered fan. This leaves you with 2 problems:
- The fish has no protective coating and will dry out or even burn in the intense heat.
- The batter is thrown around the inside of the appliance, sticking to the walls of the cooking chamber and causing some major cleaning headaches.
And whilst we are touching on the subject of cleaning, if you’d like some advice on how to clean your air fryer you can read more here.
Unfortunately, batter works best with a deep fat fryer, not with air frying.
The Batter Solution
Clouds of golden batter may not be practical with air frying, but batter tends to suck up a lot of fat anyway and one of the major reasons for buying an air fryer is the promise of healthier fried foods.
Thankfully, a thick blanket of oily batter isn’t the only way to produce crunchy, moreish fried treats.
Dust and Crumb
There are many ways that you can get that tempting, crunchy outside on your fried treats without using a batter. You need to start experimenting with dry coatings.
The simplest way to coat a piece of halloumi cheese or a chunk of firm tofu is to roll it in some seasoned flour and pop it in the air fryer to cook.
This method of covering food with a protective layer is called ‘dredging’.
As with crumbing (see Crumbing Tips below), the item that you want to coat needs to be slightly damp for the coating to adhere. Things like tofu and veg sticks have sufficient moisture for dusting to work, but other items may need a little squirt of water to get things going.
You can dredge food for air frying in regular flour. You can also have a go at things like rice flour and cornflour. I really like cornflour for things like salt and pepper tofu as it gives that authentic Asian taste and crunch.
Another favourite is fine semolina or polenta. Chicken strips dredged in paprika and polenta have been a winner with my kids for years.
The Beauty of Breadcrumbs
One of the simplest ways to get a delicious crust on a piece of fish or a chicken breast is to ‘breadcrumb’ it. Here’s how:
You take a trimmed chicken breast and dip it in a bowl of seasoned flour. Shake off the excess and then dip the floured chicken into a bowl of beaten egg. Again, knock off the extra and then roll the breast in a bowl of breadcrumbs. It may take a smidge more work than just tossing your chicken in a bowl of batter (although making a batter that isn’t too runny or too thick is actually quite hard), but if the result is succulent chicken in a moreish golden crumb, who cares?
- Don’t skip a stage!
You may think that flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs is all a bit of an effort, but they all serve a purpose. The flour gives the egg something to cling to and the crumbs stick to the egg. Ditch a step and you may well end up with patchy crumbing or, worst still, crumbs that fall off when you start cooking.
- The food you want to crumb needs to be slightly damp for the flour to stick.
This shouldn’t be a problem with most foods as many are moist anyway, like fish and chicken. If they are naturally dry, spritz them with some water.
- Play with your flour seasonings.
Salt and pepper are the obvious additions. However, the flouring step is a great place to start bumping up flavour before you even begin air frying. Try adding smoked paprika and garlic powder to the flour for chicken, cumin for lamb and turmeric and mild curry spices for white fish.
- Experiment with your breadcrumbs.
The truth be told, it’s hard to go past the light, crunchy perfection of Japanese panko breadcrumbs. And as they are available in supermarkets all over the place, they are my top tip.
But don’t let Japanese brilliance stand in the way of making your crumb your own. Any breadcrumb will do and you can easily make you own by whizzing a stale piece of bread around in a blender for a few seconds. If you want a gluten free version, try blitzing some rice crackers and using them to dust your schnitzel.
And if you want to try your hand at making panko breadcrumbs yourself, you can read more here.
As with the flour, feel free to jazz up your breadcrumbs. A few herbs (dried or fresh) stirred into the crumbs and even a sprinkle of Parmesan can really lift a humble lamb cutlet to new culinary heights.
- Be organised.
Get everything ready before you begin crumbing. You need 3 bowls – for the flour, eggs and crumbs. You may also need a plate or tray to place your coated items on before you start cooking them. If you plan to cook the first batch straight away, you need your air fryer heated, oiled and ready to go. You’ll also need a plate or tray to put the food on when it comes out of the fryer.
This may all seem obvious, but a good cook usually has everything that they can prepared before the cooking starts. It’s less stressful and reduces the chances of making a mistake.
So you’ve got your lamb cutlets ready to go and all of your little bowls set out. Now might be a good time to talk about your crumbing technique.
Breadcrumbing Technique or How To Breadcrumb Like A Pro!
Try breadcrumbing a pork chop without thinking it through first and you’ll soon discover that it can be a fiddly and very messy business.
You can make life easier if you dredge (run through flour), egg and then crumb a firm, single item of food like a chicken tenderloin with the aid of a fork. Simply stab your chicken strip and use the fork to guide it through the crumbing process.
The fork method doesn’t work so well for more delicate items like fillets of fish, or soft things that may break up like fishcakes. This means that it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty – literally.
However, there are smart, clean ways to crumb by hand and messy, frustrating ways to crumb by hand. Here is the inside knowledge.
If you are right-handed:
- Line your dishes up from left to right – plain pork chop, seasoned flour, egg, breadcrumbs, plate for crumbed items.
From here on in your plan is to keep your left hand ‘dry’ and your right hand ‘wet’.
- Left hand – pick up the chop and move it through the flour to coat both sides. Shake off the excess and move it onto the egg bowl.
- Right hand – move the chop around in the beaten egg until it is covered.
- Right hand – let the excess egg drip from the chop and then transfer it to the breadcrumbs. Crumb on both sides, using your right hand to help if you have to.
- Right hand – place the crumbed pork chop on a clean plate, ready for the air fryer.
If you are left-handed (and I am, so I get how irritating the right-handed world can be!), reverse the order of your plates and get your left hand dirty.
Why is it important to keep one hand ‘dry’ and the other ‘wet’?
Because flour and egg mixed together are very sticky. After all, they are the glue attaching the breadcrumbs to your pork chop. If you handle the flour, run your fingers through the egg and then move on to the crumbs all with the same hand you will end up with a nasty gluey mess on your fingers and will spend more time washing your hands and fishing doughy lumps out of your crumb mixture than you will actually crumbing the pork.
With a little practice, you will find that crumbing cleanly becomes second nature. Especially once you start using your air fryer regularly. Before you know it, air frying will be a breeze!