If you want the full unvarnished truth about the gadget that’s designed to help you save on fuel costs as the weather turns crisp, stick with me. I have the research for you.
Partly because winter has pretty much held off, this year, energy management hasn’t been that hard. It’s dead easy to heat up one relatively small space, especially with small fan heaters, although most fan heaters, after a year, sound like helicopters experiencing a continuous bird strike.
Hot water bottles have made a comeback, too, but elegantly upgraded. In the old days, a hot water bottle was a hot water bottle and if you poured boiling water into it, it would in no time spring a leak and be described as “perished.”
For my generation, the word “perished” is so associated with hot water bottles that these days, when it’s applied to dead people, for a split second the mental imagery is of a leaky vessel, rubber puckered with failure, rather than a corpse.
Hot water bottles in the past tended to be associated with chilblains and skin scorching. But this year they have become a must-have. You can’t turn around, particularly in a pharmacy, without encountering one with a furry face or a joke slogan.
And then, in department stores, lined up like fat scarves, are the new long ones. The length of a grown-up’s leg, they are. Like someone took a normal hot-water bottle and pulled it like children’s putty until it went skinny and tall.
Of course I bought one. No, to be perfectly honest, I bought three. You don’t want a single tall hot water bottle. It might perish from loneliness.
Because of perishing-fear, I decided to read the instructions. Now, I have lived a good long life never reading instructions. Instructions are for wimps or masochists.
IKEA instructions are for the kind of masochist who comes into your home on the pretext that they’re doing you a favour by assembling the IKEA awfulness and as an opening salvo, asks “Where do you keep your Allen keys?” You know the type.
For the most part, instructions are bad translations of directions developed by rigid personalities who have never met a real human. They’re also printed in such a tiny font that you need glasses, magnifiers and the yoke on your phone that blows images up.
In the case of the long hot water bottles, they warn that if you use water straight from the tap, you’re in trouble. No indication why.
The long hot water bottle has hit peak popularity this winter. As has the air fryer, the latter being talked about as if they were an investment in energy-saving, rather than an ordinary purchase.
So I felt positively virtuous, the other day, heading for a German discounter at opening time, ready to buy my very own air fryer. I was surprised to find a queue outside, but not unduly. I figured the other shoppers were there to snatch up air fryers, too, and so I sharpened my elbows for combat.
Once they let us in, a mad scramble ensued. Which I followed, to find a strange version of unarmed battle going on.
Shoppers were head down in the piled items, fending off others yet raising their heads to ask people queuing behind them if they wanted a named item.
It was clear that this wasn’t air fryer country, but, egging to know what was so attractive, I hovered at the cusp of the war zone until it emerged that they were snatching up soft toys that had a passing resemblance to vegetables.
The woman beside me rolled her eyes. “They’re a family,” she said, as if this explained the melee. Apparently the desirability of misshapen cloth vegetables lies in them being related to each other.
The shop didn’t have air fryers. A notice on their website apologized for possibly failing to deliver on their ads because of global supply chain issues. I went elsewhere and disappointed the woman who helped me by not choosing the €300+ version but opting instead for the one just under ninety quid.
Getting over her dismay at me being cheap, she told me her own air fryer had changed her life. The saving… I brought mine home and set it up. The instructions said to leave plenty of room between it and the other appliances in the kitchen, although, like the long hot water bottle choice, the justification was unclear.
I put the toaster in the press like a good Derry Girls Protestant and set the air fryer up on its own. It had the pleasing aesthetic of a surface-to-air missile.
Because a woman on the Internet said it did the best boiled eggs ever and you could peel them almost by looking at them, I obeyed her guidance slavishly, right down to the ice-bath for the cooked eggs. Maybe I missed something, because I ended up with liquidy eggs that were impossible to peel. I’m still picking bits of eggshell out of my teeth.
Then I did a couple of rashers, all the better to sprinkle crunchily over the Brussels sprouts I was planning to air fry. Leathery and uncrunchy was the outcome, but I was still optimistic as I lined up the naked sprouts, cognizant of guidelines warning against putting them on top of each other.
Single layer only, in order to facilitate the free movement of fan-heated air. Which left me with about fifteen sprouts – out of a small bag - that wouldn’t fit. I put them in the microwave in boiling water and waited.
The air fryer I had expected to be faster than other methods of cooking sprouts, but fifteen minutes was the recommended time. After that, I got to eat fifteen beautifully microwaved sprouts and a small bowl of scorched marbles. Between the eggshells and the marbles, it was quite the dental challenge.
Next up was salmon darnes, and it was as I read the instructions for cooking this fish that I realised I was on the road to nowhere. The instructions were wild with enthusiasm about cooking them without having to pre-heat the main oven. A light went on in my head. (Low wattage, but who can afford bright mental lights, this winter?)
All an air fryer does is cook the kind of small portions of chicken and salmon you wouldn’t ever have put in the main oven in the first place. Let’s face it. In a fight between your frying pan and air fryer, the frying pan’s faster and easier to clean.
The air fryer is a myth pushed by chip-lovers who want to kid themselves they’re being healthy. A friend relieved me of mine. My toaster is back on the kitchen surface and I’ve apologised to the microwave for brief infidelity.
The long hot water bottles, on the other hand, are a definite hit.