A French whisk is a specific type of whisk which happens to be highly versatile in the kitchen. The strength and adaptability of a French whisk makes it an excellent tool to keep around, even in a cramped kitchen. A number of tasks can be greatly simplified with the use of a French whisk, from mixing dry ingredients together to getting the lumps out of a pudding. A kitchen supply store will usually carry French whisks, and the devices can also be ordered through specialty purveyors.
A whisk is any sort of kitchen tool with a cluster of fine wires which are designed to beat ingredients together while also aerating them. Whisks smooth ingredients while ensuring that they are evenly beaten, and a well-wielded whisk is the key to many seemingly complex recipes, especially those involving eggs. There are a number of different whisk styles, all designed to work well in different environments.
The design of a French whisk includes a long, narrow body with less wires than some other whisks. The end of the whisk bulbs out slightly to cover more surface area, while the wires are attached to a long handle which keeps the hand of the cook away from hot food. Typically, a French whisk is all metal, although some companies make whisks from plastic or silicone which are designed for nonstick cookware. A silicone whisk will also not conduct heat, which can be advantageous.
The design of a French whisk makes it suitable to a wide range of things. It can be used in stocks, sauces, puddings, and soups on the stovetop in any number of pans, since the length allows the whisk to penetrate very deep pots. It can also be used to whisk dry ingredients together, or to handle a stiff batter. Unlike some whisks, a French whisk is usually capable of handling a thick mixture, and it should not bend or break. The tool can certainly be used in almost any recipe which calls for whipping or whisking.
While we try to remain neutral here at wiseGEEK, this author highly suggests that if you're only going to own one whisk, it should be a French whisk. The low profile, simple design fits in most drawers, and it is extremely useful. When seeking out a French whisk, look for one with a solid construction, and pay close attention to the area where the wires enter the handle. If the surface is not smooth and even, it will tend to collect grime, which is not desired. Also pay attention to how the whisk feels in your hand, and to the general construction, since you want your French whisk to last a lifetime in the kitchen.