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Down to the wire

(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

Two decades ago, in the pages of [%bookLink code=0894803417 "The New Basics Cookbook"], Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins stated that a basic kitchen needed only one stainless-steel wire whisk measuring approximately 8 inches long. A complete kitchen, they added, needed only an additional 10-inch whisk of the same style. 

Rosso and Lukins used to run a gourmet-food shop. So you can imagine my befuddlement when I walked into a local kitchenware store, expecting to find a few of those 8-inch and 10-inch wire whisks, and discovered instead more than two dozen whisks, made from silicone as well as metal, in a bright array of colors, shapes, and sizes. 

Are all of these whisks really necessary purchases for the modern cook?

[%image whisk float=right width=400 credit="Photo: iStockphoto/karcich" caption="Use a whisk to beat egg whites."] 

The answer, it seems, depends on your kitchen preferences. There will always be gearheads who can find a need, and use, for every whisk on the market. And there will always be economical cooks who put practicality first and purchase only one or two old-fashioned whisks to accomplish all of their mixing tasks. Trying to split the difference? You might purchase Lukins and Rosso’s standard whisk duo, plus one newfangled version for a specific whisking task. (See sidebar for suggestions.)

Every kind of whisk works on the principle that when the wires move through liquid, they form vacuum streams that quickly fill with air. As this movement is repeated, the whisk and vacuum streams can transform ingredients like heavy cream into fluffy, delectable whipped cream. And while some modern-day appliances, such as food processors and hand mixers, can do the work of a whisk, many home chefs still favor the whisk, especially when preparing such delicate items as hollandaise sauce and whipped cream. 

“\[With a whisk\], you can feel when \[the sauce\] is at the consistency or texture that you want,” says Pam Henderson, the manager at In Good Taste, a kitchen store in Portland, Oregon. “Whereas with a mixer, you have to keep stopping and checking it because you might go too far and turn your whipped cream into butter. With the whisk, you can actually feel when it’s getting where you want it, so you have a little more control.”


h1. Which whisk?

Balloon: The classic, with rounded wires. An indispensable tool; works best for whipping together light ingredients. 

Ball: The little balls at the end of this whisk’s wires can easily reach all of a pan’s nooks and crannies. Bonus: The ball whisk takes up less storage space.

Flat: Best for small quantities of ingredients, or for liquids in low-sided dishes or pans. Whisks in less air than other designs, but the end result is smooth and lump-free.  

French or sauce: Elongated in shape, sometimes with thicker wires for stiffer sauce mixtures. Good for whipping, too.

Silicone-coated: Wires coated with silicone don’t scratch nonstick pans and are easier to clean.

Henderson agrees that two — one big and one small — is the magic number for owners of this practical tool. And, she says, the basic, old-fashioned balloon whisk can accomplish any of a whisk’s typical tasks, from aerating and whipping ingredients (cream, egg whites) to emulsifying sauces (mayonnaise and beurre blanc). Other types of whisks are designed for specifics such as sauce-making or getting ultra-smooth results; depending on your kitchen habits, you may find you want a few of them. 

To make sure your whisk will twirl reliably through years of sauces, check the wires where they meet the handle; quality whisks (stainless steel or silicone both work just fine) will have wires sealed firmly into the handles. Wires that are simply attached, not sealed, will eventually come loose and begin to rust. 

Remember that whipping something by hand will take longer than by machine, so your hands must feel comfortable using the whisks you choose. Try different whisk styles and shapes on for size before buying them. “The most important thing about a whisk is that it has to feel good in your hand, because you’re going to be beating with it and it needs to feel good,” says Henderson. “If it’s too big or too small for your hand, it’s going to be very uncomfortable for you to use it.”

p(bio). Ashley Griffin Gartland is a Portland-based food writer and the executive director of the Portland Culinary Alliance.

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