What to cook in air fryers: Corn ‘ribs,’ ratatouille, chicken breast

By Evan Kleiman

An air fryer is great for roasting vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, asparagus, zucchini, and sweet peppers. Photo by Shutterstock.

I can’t remember any appliance accepted as rapidly into the American kitchen as the air fryer (except perhaps the Instapot). Since its debut in 2010, the air fryer has become a $1 billion business. The developer of the appliance, Fred van der Weij, was disappointed in how baked “fries” came out in his convection oven, and after years of tinkering, the rounded appliance with a small drawer was born. But at its core, the air fryer is simply a smaller convection oven with a stronger fan. Its directive is to produce foods that crunch without deep frying and it does so by using the fan to drive off moisture quickly. But given the fact that it’s an oven, you can make anything you would make in an oven in an air fryer. 

The question becomes: If you already have a toaster oven with strong convection, should you spring for an additional countertop appliance? I’m pretty married to my toaster oven, which is my only oven, and I have limited counter space, but I’m tempted by the drawer. I say if you have the space for an additional appliance, go for it, especially if you are single or a household of two or have a child who is intrigued by cooking. It’s a relatively safe way to let them cook and bake. 

Roasted corn ribs are fast and easy when made in an air fryer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Let’s talk about what you can make in an air fryer. Pretty much everything. That’s its appeal, although there are certain recipes that have gone viral on social media because they play to the appliance’s strengths. Like these spiced corn “ribs,” which are addicting. You can tap into the air fryer’s usefulness if you stop thinking about it as a fryer. It’s simply a super efficient convection oven. Most people aren’t using the appliance to avoid fat. In fact most viral recipes use fat as a way to carry flavor and ensure moistness in the finished food, like this recipe for bang bang chicken breasts, which has been saved half a million times on TikTok. 

You don’t hear much about how great the air fryer is for roasting vegetables. Asparagus, and all the summer vegetables like sweet peppers and zucchini do well. All you need to do is drizzle your prepared vegetables with a little olive oil and add seasoning at will. Peppers come out beautiful charred and sweet, and zucchini benefits from the fan to whisk away moisture. Toss thickly sliced zucchini in panko and parmesan if you want something extra. 

But for maximum enjoyment of summer vegetables from the air fryer, make yourself some ratatouille. You can do it by simply cooking a mixture of  peppers, eggplant, zucchini and onion together with olive oil and garlic — or you can cook each vegetable separately and mix them together with a bit of tomato sauce out of the fryer. The most ambitious: You can create an alternating circular design of the vegetables in a heatproof dish that will fit in your air fryer and roast it that way.

What shouldn’t you cook in your air fryer? Battered foods don’t do well and make a mess.