It’s come time to give the Chef’s Table spotlight to our very own namesake tool, the almighty whisk.
The whisk is one of the home cook’s most basic necessities. Its crisscross of thin, rounded wires plays a unique role in introducing air into a liquid, mixture, or batter, often serving to fluff it up, beat out lumps, or froth up bubbles.
Why whisk by hand?
Like many of our classic hand tools, the whisk has become overshadowed in the modern age by snazzy electric tools like the beater, blender, stand mixer, and food processor. To be sure, it takes quite a bit of elbow grease to hand whip instead of pushing a button and having it done for you.
But it’s a simpler solution than rigging up your electronic thing-a-majigs, and I find a sort of proud satisfaction in having whipped a cream or meringue by hand. It’s a measure of self-reliance, a basic kitchen skill that will serve you well if you’re outside of your own kitchen zone or without power one day. It also allows you to gently observe your ingredients as they transform, so you’ll never over-mix.
7 types of whisks
There are a few different types of whisks. The kind we’re most familiar with here in the States is called a “balloon whisk,” (pictured), which is rounder and more bulbous at its tip. It works great in mixing bowls, as its rounded edges glide easily along the inside of the bowl.
Then there’s the “French whisk,” which is very similar to the balloon whisk but more gradually tapered, narrower and straighter. It works well in deeper dishes and straight-edged pans.
A “flat” or “roux whisk” is tailored for working in shallow pans, as you might be when making a roux or sauce. It is just that—flat instead of rounded, which allows it to fit nicely into a skillet from the side. This is somewhat interchangeable with a “gravy whisk,” which while kind of resembling a bar strainer, serves the same purpose as the roux whisk.
But wait! There’s more! A “ball whisk” contains a cluster of straight rather than looped wires, each tipped with a heavy metal or silicone ball. It’s more flexible than any of the aforementioned types, working well in odd-shaped dishes by reaching into corners and crannies.
A “cage whisk” is like a whisk within a whisk, a small ball like you might find in smoothie or shake-blending cups captured within a standard round whisk. The double action of a cage whisk is great for heavy duty whisking and working with thick batters.
A “Danish dough whisk” is made especially for working with thick dough (and is actually made in Poland). It has a minimalist design, just one funny-looking wire loop within another. It works well for powering through bread and pastry dough.
Last but not least is the “twirl whisk,” which is shaped in more of a spring-like fashion than your standard balloon whisk, giving it an up-and-down movement as you work through your ingredients. I haven’t found any particular case in which this whisk works best, although it does seem to produce a smoother product more quickly.
Some common uses for whisks are beating eggs, whipping cream or meringue, mixing pancake or waffle batter, and making roux, gravy, and sauces. I’ve also used it to drizzle melted chocolate, make cool patterns when dyeing eggs, and “sift” dry ingredients together.
You can certainly get by without all of these different types. In fact, if you don’t have a whisk at all, you’ll probably be OK. The attachments of an electric hand beater work as good stand-ins, as do two forks crossed at the tines to create a crisscross pattern.
That said, it’s worth $10 or so to have a whisk on hand. They’re easier to grab and maneuver than the alternatives mentioned above, and can work in a variety of ways. I’ve even used mine to froth hot chocolate Mexican-style when I didn’t have a molinillo, the traditional wooden tool.
Last note: Go for metal instead of plastic—it will last longer and work better. Now go whisk up something delicious!