Last Christmas, my wife and I received an interesting gift from my brother-in-law. It was an air fryer, a product I had, until then, never heard of. It’s a black, roughly egg-shaped small appliance that sits on the countertop and plugs right in to the wall. All you do is slide open a drawer, put the things you want cooked in a removable basket that nests in the drawer, slide it closed again, set the temperature and turn a knob, and the machine “fries” the chicken wings, potatoes or even veggies by circulating hot air around them.
So it’s basically a mini convection oven, and I love it. I’ve used it for everything from popcorn shrimp to a full head of cauliflower, and it does a great job with both, but it’s really best for fry-able foods you’d normally bake in your oven. It actually gets things acceptably crisp without having to use oil. This, in my mind, means that chicken strips are suddenly health food, but that’s a subject for another column.
One look at me and you could probably tell I love fried foods. (You do, too, even if you don’t admit it.) One of my fried favorites is something I discovered a few years ago on a trip to Mont Tremblant: poutine, which basically qualifies as the national dish of Quebec. In its purest form it’s French fries swimming in brown gravy with a bunch of cheese curds thrown in and just getting melty. Scoff all you want, but it’s freaking awesome.
The best poutine I found in the Tremblant area – and thus a contender for the best in the world – came from the snack bar of a mini-golf course in the town of St. Jovite. That’s how poutine is supposed to be – simple, cheap, peasant fare – but for whatever reason, no one south of the Canadian border seems to get that. Order poutine, which has become increasingly prevalent on menus, in the U.S. and you’re almost guaranteed to get some godawful plate of fries onto which has been drizzled some weak gravy and shredded cheddar.
Sacre bleu! It’s pathetic. Seriously, the last plate of American poutine I had was so bastardized I couldn’t even finish it.
Here’s where the air fryer comes into play. I’ve tried making poutine in the past, but the regular oven doesn’t get the fries crispy enough to stand up to gravy. The air fryer just manages to pull off the trick, so now I make poutine all the time, and it’s infinitely better than the impostors some restaurants try to pawn off as the real deal.
Here’s a 20-minute semi-cheating recipe using microwavable steak tips and tater tots (my personal choice – fries will work, too) that makes an easy, hearty meal for a family of four. Be sure to use real, squeaky cheese curds. Nothing less will do. I apologize for not having measurements, but I don’t use them.
1 bag (about 24 oz.) tater tots, fries or potato rounds
Chicken broth and beef broth
Parsley, oregano or another dried herb
Garlic powder and onion powder
Pepper and salt
1 package microwavable steak tips in gravy
1 package (about 5 oz.) cheddar cheese curds
Place the tater tots in the air fryer basket and cook at the highest temperature for a couple of minutes longer than the suggested regular-oven cook time. Remember to shake the tots in the basket a time or two during cooking for best results. While the tots cook, melt a liberal amount of butter in a pan and whisk in flour to make a roux. Let it cook a few minutes, adding the Worcestershire sauce, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper and salt, and when it’s light brown, whisk in a mix of chicken and beef broths, adding a little bit at a time until the gravy reaches a good consistency. Let it simmer while you microwave the steak tips and then add them to the gravy. When the tots are done, sprinkle the cheese curds on them as quickly as possible so they start melting, and then drench – and I mean drench – the whole shebang with gravy and steak and vive la difference!