How to make absolutely anything in an air fryer – The Telegraph

After teaching the internet how to cook perfect chips, Poppy O’Toole – aka Poppy Cooks – is taking on Britain's bestselling gadget
One night in 2020, as the country was emerging from one lockdown and about to plunge into the next, Poppy O’Toole made what turned out to be a life-changing dinner. It was just a couple of steaks with little crispy cubed potatoes tossed with parmesan and parsley – simple home cooking for herself and her partner, Tom, designed for comfort and speed more than gastronomy.
The potatoes turned out particularly well. So well that she decided to make them again and film the ­recipe. She uploaded it to TikTok, where she’d been experimenting with posting foodie videos while on ­furlough from her job in a Michelin-starred kitchen. ­Overnight, the post got a million views. 
A second potato recipe followed, and then another. By ­November, as the next lockdown was called, she had a dedicated following. “I thought, look, people are going to be in their house for 25 days straight not being able to do anything. I’m going to do a whole 25 days of potato recipes. 
“It completely blew up. From one video I had over a million followers overnight.” Her reputation as “the potato girl” was born. 
O’Toole never expected the videos filmed in her kitchen in Birmingham to go viral – less still the career those short clips about jacket potatoes spawned. “It was never meant to be a polished thing,” she says. “There was no plan. I had no idea how big it was going to get.” 
She left school with no A-levels (“I preferred going to work”) but a love for cooking, working in a pub where she badgered the kitchen staff to let her cook with them. She was eventually accepted onto an apprenticeship at a Michelin-starred restaurant and spent a decade ­working in kitchens, but never had a career in ­television in her sights. 
Three years on, she has two cookbooks to her name (her latest, The Actually Delicious Air Fryer ­Cookbook is published on August 31), appears as a judge on Young MasterChef, and now has a TikTok following of 4.1 million and counting. Even Nigella is a fan. 
If you were to ask a Michelin-starred chef to list the things that vex them about the food world in 2023, social media would likely be near the top of the list, hovering around the same spot as air fryers. “In the chef world some people are a bit sceptical about air fryers,” says O’Toole. “They’re never going to go into a professional kitchen, I get it. Being a professional chef I feel like I should be less like, ‘Yes, use the air fryer.’ But it’s always on [in my house].” 
Her new book, from which the ­recipes below are exclusively shared, offers a refreshing take on the kitchen gadget that has swept the nation. Air fryer sales increased 3,000 per cent last year on 2021. Thirty per cent of UK ­households now own one – including 6.3 million Telegraph readers. But O’Toole isn’t simply tapping into a trend – she has been a convert since 2017, when her mum started using one. “Every time I went over she’d say, ‘I did this in the air fryer’. She’s a real foodie as well.” 
At home, O’Toole uses her air fryer for cooking meat (“so succulent and delicious”) and of course her trusty spuds, but was “sceptical” they could handle precision baking. Developing recipes for the desserts chapter was an exercise in pushing the limits of what an air fryer can do. 
“Genuinely I think the desserts blew my mind,” she says. Take a fiddly, time-consuming basque cheesecake. “I’ve done them in the oven and they take ages, you have to open the door a little bit, you have to be delicate with them. I was like, ‘Let’s just give it a go.’ It was foolproof. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, why have I not been doing this my whole life? This is incredible.’ I was gobsmacked.” 
As with an oven, “you have to know your piece of equipment”, she says, but she encourages people to try some of the more surprising recipes in the book, such as sticky tear-and-share cinnamon rolls or custard tarts. 
The air fryer’s great selling point, other than energy efficiency, is it’s a healthier way to cook. O’Toole is known for gloriously carb-heavy ­comfort food, and her cookbook is no exception (crispy duck, scotch eggs and hash browns are highlights). “What I didn’t want to do is retract any of the deliciousness. So it’s not like everything is slathered in butter; it isn’t, but I’m not focusing on that.” 
She was determined to keep the recipes simple, too. Her roast potatoes don’t need parboiling – they simply go in the basket with a little oil and salt. “I wanted to make it so everything was done in the air fryer. The whole point, for me, is convenience.” Speaking of which, did you know you could make dippy eggs in an air fryer without even having to boil water? It’s 10 minutes for a jammy yolk, apparently. 
The book is “for everybody”, she says. “Even if you’re a bit sceptical about air fryers. […] They can be used for so much more than frozen chips.”
‘The Actually Delicious Air Fryer Cookbook’ by Poppy Cooks (Bloomsbury, £20) is out on August 31 


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