Toward Greater Whirled Peas
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Immersion blenders have a long a.k.a. list: They're also known as hand blenders, stick blenders, dipsticks, magic wands and, in the case of those oversize restaurant versions, boat motors.
Call them synonyms for love. Like plenty of other cooks -- particularly those who like to make pureed soups -- we swooned the first time we used one of them in place of a countertop blender. No more dangerous ladling of hot liquid back and forth; no more spewing of, say, parsnips and cream toward the ceiling if you filled the blender too full.
When you can bring the blender to the soup instead of the soup to the blender, everything goes a little more easily, leaving you (rather than the device) in control. You can eyeball things and puree as you go, adding a little body to a lentil or black bean soup but leaving it mostly chunky, or deciding to make it mostly smooth but with a little extra texture. Or something in between.
In the two decades since the immersion blender first started showing up in U.S. kitchens, the category has exploded, with models whose wattage is as high as their price points, boasting boxes full of attachments. A potential multi-tasker was born. Now the immersion blender can, at least in some cases, compete with the food processor and vies to take over from the hand mixer, too.
Does that make it worth getting one? And if so, which one?
We put 11 through a series of tests in search of those answers. We looked at old and new models alike, to see if early adopters should upgrade. We used the blenders to perform four tasks each: We made a pestolike peanut salsa; whipped up yogurt, banana and orange juice smoothies; and pureed a can's worth of black beans in their liquid and a potful of whole tomatoes in their juice.
Mostly, we didn't see a strong relationship between price or wattage and performance; our favorite performer, in fact, was one of the least expensive and, at 200 watts, felt no less powerful than the 400-watt model. A caveat: This was a series of short-term tests, not a study of durability, which makes warranty information crucial when deciding what to buy.
Many of the differences are simply a matter of personal preference, and that includes comfort. We noted which models we found more ergonomic -- an important consideration, because you have to hold down the power button while operating -- but what is comfortable in one person's hand isn't necessarily so in another's.
The biggest differences showed up among the materials the blenders were housed in (plastic, brushed chrome, stainless steel) and the shape and size of the business end that surrounds the blade. We preferred stainless steel over stain-attracting white plastic, and we liked those with a bottom flange designed to move food in and out without clogging, making too much froth or creating a vacuum that caused difficulty moving the device up and down in liquid.
We have mixed feelings about all those attachments. For the most part, none of the whisks would be a match for a good hand mixer, but we appreciated the cups and beakers for such tasks as making smoothies. (A large cocktail shaker worked, too.)
Ultimately, even though some of the blenders handled the peanut salsa, a job recommended for a food processor, and even though some of them can even crush ice, we decided that their best use remains what attracted us in the first place. Stick one in a pot of chunky soup right on the stovetop, and blend away to your heart's content.
Of the 11* hand blenders we tested, five earned respectable marks: