I generally consider winter to be “soup season.” Subsequently, I’ve been looking over a lot of soup recipes as I plan my winter menu. In addition to soups, I’ve seen recipes for stews, chowders, bisques, and chilies.
Many of these recipes look similar, so how can we tell these different varieties of “soup” apart? What makes them distinct?
All of these dishes have some sort of liquid base and are popular for their flavors.
Soup is an umbrella term that describes the resulting dish when you cook solid ingredients (e.g., chicken, beef, carrots, potatoes, beans, pasta, rice) in a liquid (e.g., broth, water, juice). Cooks plan for most soups to be served warm, but there are some designed to be served cold.
Cream soups are a subset of soups characterized by a creamy texture. They have been thickened with béchamel sauce or other ingredients (e.g., egg, butter, cream, lentils, flour).
Stew is a term that technically describes any dish prepared by stewing (i.e., the ingredients are barely covered with a liquid and simmered for a long time in a covered pot). However, in practice, most cooks use the term stew to describe soup-like dishes that have less liquid and larger pieces of solid ingredients than traditional soups.
Chowders are thick and chunky soups that traditionally contain seafood (e.g., clams, lobster). They are creamy due to the presence of milk or cream and chunky due to the presence of large bites of seafood (or other meats) and vegetables. Some cooks casually use the term chowder to describe thick, chunky soups that don’t contain seafood (e.g., corn chowder), but there is debate regarding if these are true chowders.
Like chowders, bisques are rich, thick soups that typically contain seafood. Unlike chowders, they are not chunky. Bisques are pureed so they are smooth. Most contain wine and cream, which sets them apart from pureed vegetable soups.
There is a ton of debate regarding the definition of the term chili. However, most cooks don’t consider it to be a soup. Chilies are stew-like dishes usually comprised of chili peppers or chili powder, meat (typically beef), and often tomatoes and beans. What is included in chili varies greatly based on geographic and cultural differences.
Do you prefer one of these dishes over the others? Why do you prefer it?
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