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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.