I am not very good about cleaning my air fryer. I’ll clean the basket if it gets truly gunky, but I usually wipe it out with a paper towel, or simply cook today’s food in last night’s grease. It’s gross, but this particular type of slovenliness often leads to innovation.
Such was the case when I went to air fry (aka power roast) some broccoli after making this candied bacon. The air fryer basket was coated in a not-so-thin film of bacon grease, with hardened globs of maple syrup on the floor and walls. I added the broccoli (with some salt and MSG) to the dirty basket, gave it a shake once everything had warmed up, then let it cook for about 10 minutes at 400℉.
It was some of the best broccoli I’ve ever had. It was salty, sweet, savory, rich, and just a little bit burnt, and I have been chasing that vegetable-induced high for weeks. I tried to recreate the experience by drizzling some syrup onto my next batch of broccoli, before it went into the air fryer, but the liquid syrup gave off too much water, and the broccoli didn’t brown (and the browned, almost burn bits are half the point of air fried broccoli).
Next, I tried reducing the syrup to a thicker syrup and drizzling it on the cooked broccoli, and that worked pretty well, provided I got the timing right. The broccoli and the syrup have to finish at the exact same moment—the syrup hardens into stick globs if it is drizzled on anything other than hot broccoli.
Finally, I decided to take a cue from my original slovenly experience. I reduced the syrup by half—until it was thick and solidified immediately upon touching a cool surface—then whisked in some bacon fat, and tossed the broccoli in that savory-sweet mixture. All of that went into the air fryer, and it came out glorious.
Could you make this in a regular oven? Yes, but I like the air fryer here because you can toss the broccoli with the maple bacon fat right in the little basket, instead of a bowl. (Tossing it in a cold mixing bowl leads to the syrup mixture solidifying and sticking to the bowl, and I don’t want that!) Plus, shaking the broccoli in a basket is a little easier than stirring it with a spoon inside a hot oven, and I am all about ease.
To make this maple bacon broccoli, you will need:
- 2 small head’s worth of broccoli florets (about 10 ounces)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat (or another fat if you don’t want to involve meat)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Wash and chop the broccoli into florets and place them in the basket of your air fryer. Add the maple syrup to a small sauce pan, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let it reduce by half, stirring constantly. Once you have about 2 tablespoons of very sticky, thick syrup, remove it from the heat and whisk in the bacon fat.
Drizzle the fat and syrup mixture over the raw broccoli, shaking the basket to coat the florets. Season with salt and about 6 shakes of MSG from your MSG shaker. Cook in a 400-degree air fryer for 7-10 minutes, shaking the basket every 3 minutes or so, until the broccoli is burnt on the edges. (If you have a very small air fryer, you may have to do this in batches.) Taste and season with more salt or MSG if needed, and devour.