I am not a gadget girl, so single-purpose appliances (other than my coffee maker, that is) don’t typically earn counter space in my kitchen. Be a tool with at least three uses, or you’re not all that useful to me.

Therefore, I bucked the air-fryer trend sweeping the nation for quite a while. If you don’t know what one of these doodads does, read on. High heat generated from an element in the top of the machine gets circulated rapidly around food held in its bottom basket portion. The cook programs the temperature and duration of the cooking time. The results, multitudes of fans say, are fries, wings, onion rings, ravioli, pumpkin seeds and kale chips that are almost as crispy as if they were deep-fried even though they’re cooked with just a smidge of oil.

Air fryers were the “IT” gift three years ago when more than 10 million of them were sold between May 2017 and March 2019, according to the market-research firm NPD Group. Pandemic shelter-in-place orders kept the machines flying off store shelves, both single-purpose appliances made by Dash, Ninja and Ultrean (to name just a few) that cost between $35 and $150, and combination toaster ovens with air-frying features made by Breville, Cuisinart and Oster (and many more) that can set you back $300. Dozens of air fryer-specific cookbooks published since 2017, such as “The Air Fryer Bible” and “Party in an Air Fryer,” seem to bank on the prospect of the appliances sticking around. Market forecasts back that up, predicting air-fryer sales will climb from $1.05 billion in 2020 to $1.55 billion by 2026.

This Thanksgiving, I’m joining the crowd. I’ll be making my Thanksgiving Brussels sprouts using the air fryer function on my Black+Decker Extra Wide Crisp ‘N Bake Air Fry Toaster Oven. Fried Brussels sprouts are a menu item most members of my family agree to share when we’re dining out because we all like them. They don’t mind my usual Thanksgiving sprouts, which are roasted in bacon grease and sprinkled with crumbled bacon, but the combination of still-crispy sprout leaves dressed in a tangy, spicy sauce, as I’ll be making instead this year, satisfies a palate better on many levels.

Plus, since the turkey takes up most of the real estate in my real oven in the hours leading up to the Thanksgiving meal, and mashed potatoes, gravy and simmering cranberry sauce occupy the burners, having the sprouts cook quietly off to the side in the toaster oven should help me get everything ready to be served simultaneously.

The problem with sprouts in the air fryer, though, lies in their layered girth. If you cook them at too hot a temperature, the outer layers burn while their innards remain a little tough and chewy. If you cook them at too low a temperature, the outer layers become leathery and the innards, mushy. The Goldilocks temperature in the air fryer for Brussels sprouts no wider than an inch across, I’ve discovered, is 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. After testing this method with a variety of tossed-on sauces, I am beginning to understand what the hype is all about.

Better late than never.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

The wrong temperature can ruin air-fried Brussels sprouts, so follow the well-tested directions in this recipe for Air-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Maple and Apple Cider Sauce. Photo by Christine Burns Rudalevige

Air-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Maple and Apple Cider Sauce

The air fryer – either a stand-alone model or one that operates as part of a toaster oven – is the best way to cook these. If you have neither, roast them in the oven (with the convection fan turned on if available) for 10 minutes at 425 degrees F, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast them for an additional 10 minutes before tossing them in the sauce. They will not be as crispy but will still be tasty.

Serves 4

1/4 cup finely diced shallots

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup apple cider

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Combine the shallots, vinegar and maple syrup in a small sauce pot over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the apple cider and chili flakes and continue to simmer until the mixture is thick and syrupy, 5-7 minutes. Keep warm while you prepare the sprouts.

Cut any sprouts that measure more than an inch across. Toss them with the vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place in air fryer. Cook at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes, pausing at 5, 10 and 15 minutes to stir the spouts so they crisp up evenly. Toss the air-fried sprouts with sauce, sprinkle hazelnuts on top and serve immediately.


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