Tag Archives: potatoes

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.

Cooking The Blues

Health, history, novelty – but what do they taste like? Ernie Whalley cooks the Blues

Many of the original potatoes first introduced to Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries have long since disappeared. Today, a handful of commercial varieties remain. However the Keogh family, who have farmed in North County Dublin for the past 200 years have re-introduced some of these rare and ancient varieties by developing seed from old agricultural archives. Each Heritage (as they term them) variety has an original colour, shape and taste – Blue potatoes, which were first grown here in the 1900’s, have a dramatic dark purple skin and the flesh within is deep blue, a colour it retains after cooking. Tom Keogh, from Peter Keogh and Sons reckons “The novelty factor of cooking blue mash or blue chips will raise many eyebrows at the dinner table. It is also a great way to get young children interested in eating potatoes.”

Recently, I received a sample box. I’ve come late to these violet and indigo wonders; it seems every food writer around has already been extolling their virtues. What virtues? The cynic might say “Well, they’re purple, aren’t they? So what?” But, bear with me…

Cook these potatoes and your guests will be eating a slice, or maybe a chip of history. Purple/blue potatoes have been linked to the Incas. Some say they were reserved for the king. People have speculated that the original potatoes brought back to Europe by (maybe) Columbus or (was it?) Sir Walter Raleigh were of this hue. I can just envisage the conversation:-

Elizabeth I: For godsakes, Walt. These things clash with my regal attire. Can’t you find some that tone with my new French robe? Green, yellow or something?

Raleigh: I can probably get white, your majesty.

Elizabeth: Do it, so. Begone.

(six months later)

Raleigh (bowing low, while doffing his hat with a flourish): Behold, your majesty. The white potato.

Elizabeth: Fool. These tubers are not white. They are a sort of muddy brown, with scab and big holes wherein some clumsy oaf has stuck a pitchfork. (To Burleigh, her chancellor, conveniently standing by at the head of a posse of tough looking dudes with shiny helmets and big spears) Seize him! Off with his head!!!

But, seriously, how do the purple spuds stand up to testing?

Well, they are not of the “Rush Queens, Pure Balls of Flour” ilk. Texturally, the purple spuds are, if not quite ‘waxy’, grainy or mealy, more like. ‘Compressed porridge’ was what came to mind when I baked them in their jackets. Roosters have nothing to fear. Roasted, they don’t have a deal of flavour – nothing to wean me off the Golden Wonder or the Kerr’s Pink, both of them fluffy within and crisp-crusted without. They make decent chips – with the caveat that the purple/blue hues metamorphose to mottled brown and navy. havern’t tried mashing them yet.

Novelty value apart, there is one very good reason for eating blue spuds. The strong blue colour is the same anthocyanin that gives blueberries, blackberries and aubergines their distinctive tints, a powerful antioxidant which protects cells from damage and so may inhibit certain cancers, heart disease and muscular degeneration.

So far as aesthetics go, perhaps the most sympathetic deployment would be as potato salad, cutting the boiled or steamed tubers into wedges and mixing with small, whole white salad potatoes (varieties like Charlotte or Nicola) would make for an appealing contrast in shape and texture. Some chopped scallions and a bulb of raw fennel would add bite and crunch, alternatively a handful of blanched mange tout. Potential for a “Wow!” factor at a dinner party here.

Currently my favourite salad dressing – and it works as well for potato as for green salad – is a 6:1 blend of good extra virgin olive oil and WHITE balsamic vinegar, with a scattering of chopped chives and thyme leaves, a little salt and a good grind of fresh black pepper. Of the white balsamicos the Belazzu brand is especially piquant (I get mine in Greenacres of Wexford but other good delis stock it). Another potato salad dressing I like is a 50/50 blend of homemade mayonnaise and Greek yoghurt.

Keogh’s Heritage Blue potatoes are now available exclusively in Superquinn stores nationwide from for a limited period, priced €2.99 for a 1kg box.