Soup, Bisque, and Chowder: How Are They Different?
Is bisque just another fancy word for soup? How do these two differ from chowder?
Soups—whether they are chunky, creamy, light, or filled with noodles—are comfort in a bowl. You can sip and slurp your way into a hearty meal, all while getting a healthy amount of good-for-you nutrients. But do you find yourself scratching your head at the dinner table when you look at the soup menu? Is bisque just another fancy word for soup, and how do these two differ from chowder?
Soups can come in different styles: there are clear soups made from a simple stock, clean bone broth soups, and thick pureed soups. The heavier kinds of soups are often thickened with flour, rice, potatoes, or cream to make them more flavourful and to give them more body. Bisques and chowders are both thick soups, and although they are quite similar in origin, their cooking methods and ingredients are what set them apart.
Chowder has a French origin: the word itself is derived from the word for “cauldron.” Back in the day, French fishermen prepared their seafood soups in large cauldrons. A chowder is a thick soup with chunks of seafood in it, such as fish and shrimp. Traditionally, a chowder is thickened with flour or potatoes and is finished with a dash of cream or milk to smoothen it out.
A bisque, on the other hand, is a soup made up of pureed shellfish. Unlike a chunky chowder, a bisque is very smooth. To thicken a bisque, the shells of the crustaceans used are roasted in a pan, ground into a fine paste, and then added into the stock to be used as a base for the soup. The roasting pan is then deglazed with wine, cognac, or brandy, and this, in turn, is also added to the stock for extra flavor. Other methods for thickening a bisque include using the natural starches of either rice or potatoes, which are strained out after simmering to keep the soup smooth.
Photography by Miguel Nacianceno