Tag Archives: frying

ON TEST Tefal Actifry

How good is the Actifry? Ernie Whalley tests the kitchen gizmo that claims to cook a kilo of chips using less than a tablespoon of oil.

The Tefal Actifry, with well over a million in use around the world, has been a huge success for the French kitchen electronics giant.

The gadget had its birthpangs in a desire to cook chips with the minimum of oil and it took a massive amount of co-research between Tefal’s own technologists and those from French universities, plus five generations of prototypes before the quest,  could be achieved in a commercial version.

The Actifry cooks using a combination  of heat and blown air, a sort of hairdryer GTi turbo. The chips must feel like Man U players subjected to a Fergie tirade after a 4-0 defeat to West Ham.

Though it comes packaged with a 160 page book, replete with recipes and health advice, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the primary function and the one for which the Actifry is best suited, is to fry potatoes. Yes, I’ve cooked  a monkfish Thai curry in its capacious pan; I’ve egged-and-Parmesaned sprouting broccolli spears and charred them nicely; even thrown rashers, mushrooms and a couple of tomatoes in it when I was too lazy to wash a grill pan and rack (works fine, gets the fat nice and crispy and keeps the meat tender) but when the chips are down the Actifry is there for frying them.

I tried the risotto recipe. It was, frankly, terrible. And, given the 32 minute cooking time I can do it faster in a large pan. Nor was the quick Bolognaise sauce anything to write home about – with some things there’s just no subsitute for long, slow cooking.

When I first announced, on the forum of  http://www.forkncork.com , my acquisition of  the Actifry I got a sarky message from a chef who said something to the tune of “Yes, and it takes a fortnight to fry a kilo of chips”. Not so, friend. It takes about 40 minutes (less for lesser quantities – like a microwave it seems to multiply the time as you put more raw materials in – half a kilo takes around 25 minutes) and the eventual result is better if you peel, then soak the spuds to release some starch and then dry them. So it’s slower than my normal method, which is to fill a big wok half way up with corn oil. But then you don’t need to stand over the chips while they are cooking – with the Actifry you can leave it to get on with the task while you undertake others. And, ultimate plus point for me, there is no smoke and very little smell. There’s a noise but less than my espresso machine and coffee roaster – less than a Magimix, too, I’d say.*

Methodology? As I’ve said you peel, wash and dry your tatties and cut them into the desired size and shape. Chips of varying sizes, sauté slices, small cubes it will handle them all. Then you open the Actifry by pressing two buttons on the front and load them evenly in the pan. Taking the green measuring spoon provided, you sprinkle or smear  the appropriate measure of oil or fat ( 1 tbsp to a kg) over the potatoes, close the lid, set the timer (start off by using the times suggested in the book – if in doubt add a few minutes more, you can always abort the process, and switch on. Then you can set about making your sauce, pan-frying your steak or pouring yourself that G&T. There’s a warning bell that lets you know when there’s under a minute to go. Unlike ‘real or I should maybe say ‘conventional’ chips they aren’t time-critical to a minute or two – handy if you are plating up as you can leave the spuds in the Actifry until the last minute.

The Actifry will work with most, if not any, edible oils or fats. The Derrycamma rapeseed oil – test on the website – made brilliant chips; health freaks please turn away but I made the most superb sauté potatoes using goose fat. I cooked chips in 3 sizes as a tester – guests preferred the mid-sized (approx 10mm x 10mm) to the fatties.

Cleaning’s a cinch. Everything can go into the dishwasher but I prefer to give them a quick swab in hot soapy water, rinse, dry and return. Anyone who has ever worked as a KP will bless the Actifry. I’m a bit dubious about plastic parts too but the Actifry seems robust, at least nothing has fallen off yet.

To sum up, I love the Actifry. I’ve cleared a regular space for it on my countertop, promoted from the ‘other ranks’ parking space atop the kitchen cabinets. Last night I made brilliant spicy wedges – you can chuck the cumin, chilli, coriander, paprika or whatever in along with the oil. I’d maybe be a tad wary of turmeric, it tends to discolour plastic.

Chips, sauté, wedges, cubes, bring ’em on. Low fat, no  smoke, no smell, so it won’t get into the Guinness Book of Records for speed frying. So bloody what!

*Just measured the noise level – 66 decibels at 3 feet, so won’t hurt the ears.

ON TEST – Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil

Rapeseed oil comes from oilseed rape, a root vegetable and cousin of mustard cabbage. The name is derived from the Old English term for turnip –‘rapum’. It comes, as you’d imagine, from those bilious yellow fields that, to my mind at least, disfigure so much of the countryside in Britain and Ireland.

However, aesthetics aren’t everything. Rapeseed oil is a product we can make here that will compete on culinary terms with the likes of sunflower, corn and even olive oil. Or so ‘tis claimed. The protagonists for rapeseed oil claim a health benefit too. Compared to olive oil it has half of the saturated fat and a much higher (up to 10x) natural Omega 3 content, the one item in the Irish diet so often lacking.

To extract the natural oil from the seed, it is squeezed in a mechanical press without the addition of any chemicals or heat. Cold pressed means that the composition of the oil isn’t altered by heating. It’s essentially the same process they use to make extra virgin olive oil.

There’s a further ecological bonus in that the  seed husk that is left over (called ‘cake’ can be mixed with other cereals into a safe and nutritious animal feed. Alternatively it can be used as a low carbon, renewable fuel in solid fuel burners.

Okay, that’s the economic and ecological pitch, what does rapeseed oil taste like. The makers of this particular one – Derrycamma Farm near Castlebellingham in Co. Louth claim a “delicious earthy, nutty taste”, and say it’s suitable for dressings, stir frying, roasting and dunking. Indeed Derrycamma Fram Rapeseed Oil took a Gold at the 2010 Great Taste Awards.

Having lived with the product for a couple of weeks I have to say that, as far as a salad dressing goes, rapeseed oil, tastewise is not at the races. Far from being “nutty” I found it mucky, cloying and the earthiness the makers claim as a plus point was offensive in the extreme. What’s more, one of the things I most love about olive oil is, you can ring the changes. Switching from a light French one to, say, a Portuguese with its weighty mouthfeel, or a Greek oil exuding fruit and spice allows you to vary your dressing to choice. I haven’t tasted too many rapeseed oils for this purpose, maybe only 3 or 4 but the similarities seem more marked than the differences. Taste, though, is a subjective thing. You might actually  like the flavour of rapeseed oil or, at least, be able to put up with it in return for the claimed health benefits, plus the feelgood factor that comes from using an Irish product.

Where this oil really comes into its own is for frying. I’m not sure what the smoke point is, but it’s decently high, so nice for stir fries. Used for frying, the oil comes over as pretty neutral. Corn oil is excellent for frying but some of the brands impart offensive flavours, infusing the ingredients with same. It makes excellent sauté potatoes too and crisp roasties – with the caveat that for both these purposes when it comes to flavour there’s really nothing so good as goose or duck fat and yes, I’m sure there’s an army of dieticians out there prepared to have me burned as a heretic.

So, a qualified ‘thumbs up’ for Derrycamma Farm rapeseed oil. But it will never replace olive oil in my salads.

Stockists

Co Cork: Drinagh Superstore, Skibereen; Lynch’s Centra, Crosshaven; Scally’s Supervalu, Clonakilty; Stuffed Olive, Bantry; Centra, Kanturk; Urru Culinary Store, Bandon.

Co. Donegal: Simple Simons Natural Food, Donegal.

Co Down: John Magee Butchers, Warrenpoint; Quails Fine Foods, Banbridge

Co Dublin: SuperValu, The Rise; JC Savage Supermarket, Swords; Select Stores, Dalkey; Treat, Imaal Rd, Cabra; Honest2Goodness, Glasnevin; Sheridans Cheesemongers, Dublin 2; Food Game, South Lotts Road, Dublin 4; Michael’s Food and Wine, Mount Merrion; Mortons at Park Place, Dublin 2; Mortons, Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh; Listons Food Store, Camden St; O’Tooles Master Butchers, Sandycove; Fleming Fine Foods, Dundrum Village; Centre; Woodstock Café, Dublin 7.

Co Galway: Sheridans Cheesemongers, Galway; Connemara Fine Foods, Oughterard.

Co Kildare: Nick’s Fish, Newbridge; The Good Food Gallery, Kilcullen.

Co Kilkenny: Knockdrinna Farm House Cheese, Stoneyford.

Co Louth: Hickey’s Farm Shop, Bohermomor, Ardee; Country Fresh, Dundalk; McAteer’s Food House, Dundalk; Stockwell Artisan Food, Drogheda; The Country Store, Richardstown, Dunleer; Food For Thought, Carlingford; Forge Valley Farm Shop, Termonfeckin.

Co Meath: Sheridan Cheesemongers, Carnaross; Hugh Maguire Family Butcher, Ashbourne; SuperValu, Navan; Callaghan Butchers, Bettystown; Nick’s Fish, Ashbourne; An Troman, Trim.

Co. Monaghan: Kirks Seafood, Castleblaney.

Co Waterford: Ardkeen Food Store, Waterford.

Co. Westmeath: CR Tormeys, Athlone.

Co. Wexford: Fresh Fields, Gorey.