The Art of Stirring
Peter Hertzmann is the author of Knife Skills Illustrated, instructor at Sur La Table and owner of à la carte cooking website. You may have seen my interview with Peter on Novice2Pro Chef Interviews. His website is very informative with tons of articles, recipes and videos.
His video titled “Stirring Conclusions” struck me as interesting, because it is something I don’t often put much thought into. You may think you know everything there is to know about stirring, but after watching the video, you may be wrong.
The video, broken down into chapters, answers all of our basic questions about stirring such as: Why is it Necessary to Stir? and Which Utensils are Best for Stirring? The video also answers more advanced or overlooked questions about stirring such as: How to Stir and Flip With a Frying Pan? and Where in the Pot to Stir?
Here are some highlights from the video and some do’s and don’ts of stirring:
There are three main reasons to stir. This may seem common sense, but many people stir only because the recipe tells them to and don’t think about the reasoning behind it.
Reasons to Stir
- To create a homogenous mixture
- To evenly disperse temperature
- To alter the viscosity of a liquid (thicker or thinner)
Tools for Stirring
You may think you know which tool is best for stirring. Or, you may just grab the first thing you see and use that. While this may work, there are some tools preferred over others. Typically, we use spoons, spatulas and whisks in the kitchen to stir.
DO use a wooden spoon for stirring. These are helpful at getting in between corners.
DO use a wooden spatula for stirring. This is the preferred tool for stirring because it is comfortable in your hand and the flat sides are good for scraping. You can also reach the sides and corners of a pot or pan easily.
DO use a plastic or nylon flat spatula for non-stick surfaces, such as pans that you would use to make omelets, etc. The plastic spatula is also great for stirring, spreading and scraping. Be careful though, these tools will melt at high temperatures.
DO use tongs to stir. They can also be used to turn your food simultaneously.
DO use chopsticks when stirring foods that can easily stick together.
DO use a whisk, not only when whisking something, but also when you need to stir dry ingredients together.
DO use your hands when mixing things such as meats with seasoning. You may get a little messy, but it’s all in good fun.
DO use your pan as a method for stirring. Practice the flipping motion first with dried beans or rice!
DON’T use a metal spoon for stirring. The point on a metal spoon is much smaller than its wooden counterpart, meaning it comes in contact with less at the bottom of your pan. This can cause some of the ingredients in your pan to burn more easily. Metal spoons should be saved for serving.
Methods of Stirring
Stirring can seem like a simple concept, and it is. As long as you know when and where to stir.
DO make sure that the utensil you’re stirring with touches the bottom of the pan when stirring liquids over heat. Don’t forget the corners as well. For thin liquids without any solids mixed with it, stirring in the middle of the pot or pan should be good enough.
DO hold your stirrer just like a pencil. This is the most comfortable and natural way to stir. For stirring stiffer ingredients, hold stirrer in a less comfortable grip and stir more vigorously.
DO shake your ingredients in a frying pan after stirring with a spatula or spoon. This allows you to turn all of your ingredients at once. Watch the video for a detailed description of how to do this.
DON’T shake ingredients with frying pan if too much is in the pan. Use tongs to flip instead.
DON’T use the shaking with frying pan method without practicing first with rice or dried beans in a cold pan.
Frequency of Stirring
When a recipe says, “stir occasionally” or “stir frequently” what does that even mean? The more you know about stirring and understanding what you’re stirring, the better off you’ll be.
DO stir continuously when thickening a liquid with a starch or protein.
DO stir frequently when solids are added to a liquid.
DO stir occasionally when thickening sauces by reduction.
DO constantly stir ice cream. You don’t want to end up with a mixture of ice cream with large ice crystals in it.
DON’T constantly stir ingredients that are being deep fried in hot oil.
DON’T forget to stir when it’s needed. You don’t want anything sticking to the pan, burning, or not mixing properly.
And DO check out Peter’s video on the Technique of Stirring