I didn’t tell the Trader Joe’s crew member who rang me up that I was planning to air fry just about everything in my cart. Still, he picked up the Thai Banana Fritters and said, “Definitely air fry these.”
Air frying was, well, in the air. Trader Joe’s has (blessedly) started including air fryer instructions on some of its frozen stuff, and people were noting it. As I followed the lazy river current that is the shopping line in the frozen aisle, I heard a mother say the same thing to her grown daughter about 1,000 times. “Get this and air fry it; that’ll be healthy.”
Ah, “healthy.” When I got my air fryer, I was sure I would use it to unlock ultimate health status by air frying low-oil homemade fries and bunches of broccoli. To be clear, air fried broccoli is delicious. But the air fryer’s true talent is cooking frozen foods so they end up closer to the fried restaurant version of themselves. And no one is better at selling frozen foods that evoke the idea of restaurants than Trader Joe’s. Sure, we stayed in to watch SVU, but we have these pretty delicious samosas, so it’s like a whisper of a night out, right?
I love whispers of nights out (and watching SVU), so in the interest of planning future nights in, I grabbed whatever I could from the frozen aisle lazy river and air fried it all. Here’s what I found.
- The aforementioned Thai Banana Fritters: This is one of the most delicious things I’ve made inside my house. Period. They’re a dessert, but not too sweet, and they fry up in the air fryer in a way that is… magical? They tasted like they had just been battered and fried in oil. The package includes air fryer instructions. Get these. Air fry them.
- Samosas: These had air fryer instructions on the box (380 for six minutes) and they cooked up great.
- Hashbrowns: Why doesn’t this box have air fryer instructions? I cooked these on 400 for nine minutes or so and they came out perfect.
- Bambino Pizzas: No air fryer instructions, so I threw these little delights in the air fryer using the pizza setting. They stayed in for six minutes; the default was 15, but that would’ve been too long. The results were perfect.
- Turkey corn dogs: I was actually expecting this to be a disaster, aka too-hard cornbread and burning (smoking? on-fire?) wooden sticks. They don’t come with air fryer instructions, and I thought turkey corn dogs would be the showstopper of my “no” section here. To my surprise, they cooked perfectly at 400 for about 10 minutes. The outside was crispy, the inside of the cornbread was soft, the hotdog was cooked and juicy. A definite yes.
- Mandarin orange chicken: This has been quick-dinner staple in my house for years, but we’ve always fried the chicken in oil. There were no air fryer instructions on this package, but I went for 400 for 9-10 minutes, and they came out crispy and great. However, I tossed them in the sauce once they were out of the air fryer and they didn’t soak up the sauce as much as they usually do. I liked it, my husband didn’t.
- Cauliflower gnocchi: This was a bummer. I read a million blog posts about how easy these are to air fry, but they lumped together and up until the very last minute were threatening to never get crispy. I tossed them in oil and then used air fryer parchment paper, which the gnocchi were too unruly for, and then they stuck to the tray. They did cook through and have a good pop of crispiness, perfect once they were tossed in marinara, so it wasn’t a total loss and I can’t definitively say “no” here. But air frying cauliflower gnocchi was more stressful than I was expecting. I cooked them at 400 for about 12 minutes.
- Spring rolls: These didn’t have air fryer instructions, so I followed the samosa box’s instructions, figuring two foods composed of flakey pastry and fillings could be treated similarly. While 380 does seem like a good cooking temperature for these, the six-minute cook time was too short. The filling was slightly not hot enough. I’ll cook them longer next time, but generally, they do seem like a good match for the air fryer.
Arepas are a big “Nope!” from me. I used the pizza setting on my air fryer and let it go the whole time. The arepa cooked, but the corn patty became tough and all-around not good. The arepa didn’t deserve this. I should’ve pan-fried in butter like the box told me to.
The arepas were actually the only one I thought the air fryer was really a bad fit for. Some honorable mentions in the “good” column:
- Sweet potato fries: Like, obviously, right? But I recently had a pretty dismal experience with Alexia seasoned waffle sweet potato fries, because the seasoning got burnt during the cooking process, so I wanted to be sure. TJ’s sweet potato fries don’t have sweet seasoning on them and cooked up great in the air fryer. (You can always add seasoning after cooking.)
- Potato pancakes cooked great, though I’d cook them about one minute longer than the instructions suggest.
- Mozzarella sticks and breaded fried ravioli are similar, lightly breaded wonders. TJ’s mozzarella sticks are my favorite in the air fryer (I’ve air fried a lot of mozzarella sticks) because of how lightly breaded they are. Not to name names, but the TGI Fridays ones have too much breading and aren’t as good in the air fryer (or oven) in my opinion.