Stirring the pot in the great soup debate

Does it really matter? Is a soup by any other name just as tasty?

I was at a dinner party recently where the debate raged over a soup versus stew versus chowder.

The hostess served an incredibly delicious Manhattan (tomato broth) style clam chowder and one of the guests insisted that it wasn’t really a chowder — that it was actually a soup.

After a few glasses of wine and perhaps a shortage of olives in the martinis, this became a very heated dinner conversation. It was fun to watch.

Traditionally a chowder is made with a base of smoky, salty bacon, rendered so the fat can be thickened with crumbled crackers. From there small pieces of veggies like carrots, onions and celery are added and simmered until soft in chicken or vegetable stock.

Finally the protein, such as clams or other seafood, is added and then the chowder is finished with heavy cream.

Chowder doesn’t always have to include seafood; they can also be made from vegetables or meat and are a great way to use up odds and ends of ingredients.

Stew, on the other hand, is started by browning seasoned, floured cubed meat — usually beef — in very hot fat.

Once the beef is browned, the pan is deglazed with a little wine; larger chunks or even whole veggies are added and covered with beef stock.

The chunks of meat are added back and then allowed to slow cook for hours. The flour that was used to brown the beef in the first step ultimately becomes the thickener for the stock and if potatoes are added part way through the cooking time they will also serve to thicken the broth.

Ultimately the big difference between a stew and a chowder is the cooking time. Chowders are made relatively quickly, stews simmer for hours to ensure the meat is tender.

Soup however can be chunky or smooth, thick or thin and made from veggies, seafood or meat. So, soup I suppose is the perfect storm because it can really be anything you want.

Cooked or uncooked, hot or cold, eaten out of a bowl or from a mug and even served as a dessert, soup truly is the universal food.

And when your loved ones are sick, it’s a bowl of soup that makes them feel better — stew and chowders have never cured the common cold, have they?

Angie Quaale is a local foodie and owner of Well Seasoned Gourmet Food Store.