Uni-taskers have no place in any compact apartment kitchen, where storage space is precious and that neon blue melon baller (it was a necessity at the time, I swear!) occupies vital drawer real estate. But is there a limit at the other end of this spectrum? In an effort to streamline home cooking with simple, multipurpose appliances, can you overcomplicate a device? How many functions are too many functions?
Such were the questions at hand as I unpacked the newest countertop appliance from kitchen gadget giant T-fal: a multi-function, slow-cooker-slash-deep-fryer, with a few options in between. The seven settings are essentially temperature controls, ranging from a warming option (around 170 degrees) to 375 degrees for deep-frying. In between those are temperatures for boiling, braising and three synonyms for sautéing. The removable, nonstick metal cooking pot and accompanying fry basket and lid are dishwasher-safe; however, running nonstick pans through the dishwasher is ill-advised as heat and detergent wear through and eventually ruin the protective coating. It also comes with a removable kitchen timer.
The primary issue with do-it-all devices is that instead of performing one or two functions expertly, they do-it-all more or less mediocrely. The device is clunky, not to mention a bit of an eyesore (unless you like that space-pod look). It took up nearly half of the counter space in my Brooklyn apartment, and I still have no place to store it. For these kinds of sacrifices, there was a lot riding on the machine’s performance. For those with more wiggle room, however, you may be in for a treat.
I was pleasantly surprised by the options at the low and high ends of the settings spectrum, respectively. Essentially an oversized nonstick Crock-Pot, the lowest temperature works wonderfully as a warming vessel for party appetizers: queso dip, mini meatballs in sauce, chili. Well-sauced pulled pork will easily keep warm for hours without drying out.
At the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, the deep-frying setting, the unit performed beautifully. I belong to the school of thought that when deep-frying, a Dutch oven and oil thermometer are more than adequate. However, maintaining heat using this method can be challenging, particularly when you don’t have a large or powerful stove. The T-fal maintained a steady 375 degrees, despite plenty of opportunities for fluctuations as food was added and removed. I made a few modifications, including abandoning the fry basket and disregarding the maximum amount of oil as indicated on the inside of the bowl. I fried arancini (Italian breaded risotto balls) for a cocktail party and was truly impressed with the ease with which the often-troublesome frying process unfolded. The arancini were evenly cooked to a crispy, golden brown exterior in about six minutes — and I didn’t have to hover over a blazing stove!
For most of those settings in between, however (roughly four of the seven), I personally wouldn’t bother. I can boil water for pasta using a pot, sparing myself the hassle of unpacking and cleaning a large, bulky multicooker for such an easy task. The “simmer” through “browning” settings are functional, but again, simply using a skillet requires less cleanup and achieves superior results. Imagine trying to cook a chicken breast in a stockpot. Sure, it works, but it doesn’t deliver the results you’re really striving for. As for the braise option, the T-fal produces mixed results. It’s great for slow cooking over long periods of time, just like a Crock-Pot. But for me, searing meats until they develop a deep, crispy bark is a fundamental element of a good braise, and that’s tough to achieve using this unit. I ended up searing all my meat in a cast-iron skillet, then transferring the contents to the T-fal, which I found bothersome. If you’re somewhere without a stove or oven, however, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The verdict? I carved out a space in my closet because I’m keeping the thing, solely for its party-hosting advantages! As a cook and party thrower, the seemingly contradictory combination of slow cooker and deep fryer is more than sufficient for my needs. But for novice or nervous home cooks who may find the additional features useful, the T-fal could be a worthy introduction to the world of real cooking.
T-fal 7-in-1 Multi-Cooker & Fryer will be available for $99.99 at select retailers beginning in September 2015.
Gluten-Free Mozzarella Arancini
- Leftover basic risotto (from 1½ cups uncooked rice)
- Fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch cubes
- Gluten-free bread crumbs (such as Aleia’s)
- 1-2 cups gluten-free flour
- 3 eggs
- Marinara sauce (for dipping)
- Canola oil (for frying)
Note: The best arancini require a stiffer risotto than normal in order to hold the spherical shape. To do this, simply reduce the risotto for a few extra minutes and add extra shredded Parmesan as it cools to help bind and thicken the rice mixture. Using a traditional risotto, which should spread on the plate when served, won’t hold together when fried.
- Prepare fryer. Heat fryer with oil to 375 degrees. Follow instructions on device regarding proper oil amount, but ideally roughly 30 percent of total bowl volume.
- Remove leftover risotto from fridge and, with wet hands, form a 2-inch-diameter ball, roughly the size of a golf ball.
- Take one cube of mozzarella and wedge into center of ball, being sure to form the rice around the cheese to
completely envelope it. Set aside on sheet pan. Repeat steps 2-3 until all risotto is used (makes roughly 24 balls) and set aside.
- Whisk eggs to create an egg wash and assemble breading station.
- Take one ball and gently roll in gluten-free flour. Carefully shake off excess flour. Dip in egg wash until coated, then roll in bread crumbs. Set aside on additional sheet pan. Repeat steps 6-9 until all arancini are breaded and resting on prep pan.
- Working in batches of 4-6, gently drop arancini into fryer and, using tongs, spider or slotted metal spoon, rotate as necessary to ensure even cooking. Cook for roughly six minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from fryer and let cool on paper-towel-lined pan. Serve with warm marinara sauce.