Hot soups and stews are people’s favorite dishes in general, but especially in cold rainy weathers, they are even more popular at home! You would think that soups and stews are the same, but they are not. Here is how you can tell the difference between soup and stew. If you did not know then, you would know now!
Picture this: It is chilly outside, and you are feeling under the weather, and there is really nothing more soothing than a warm bowl of soup or a delicious homemade stew. No matter the time of the year, you can be sure that both play a significant role to wrap you up in the comfort you need.
But breaking it down, can you tell those two apart? Especially both having similarities in certain aspects, sometimes it is not easy to tell a soup and stew apart. But that is what we are here for today, aren’t we? — to figure this out together with you and by the end of this article, you can effortlessly figure out whether you are taking a sip off a creamy soup or dunking your bread in a rich stew. And at the end of the day whichever one you are having, let us just hope for it to be satisfying for your soul.
So, what is the difference between soup and stew?
While both can be prepared with similar ingredients in a pot such as a variety of vegetables, meat, or fish, and then let to simmer with stock, water, cream, or milk, the component that really sets soup and stew apart is the liquid amount used for each. Typically, a soup would have its ingredients completely submerged in its broth. Meanwhile, your ingredients are barely covered when they are in happily bubbling away in a stew.
What makes a ‘soup’ soup.
Let us get one thing straight right off the bat. The liquid is the main component of a soup. Frankly speaking, your soup can be prepared in several ways. They can be brothy; a good example of this would be a comforting ABC soup with chicken pieces, potatoes, carrots, and onions. A soup like this can be typically found in Asian households. Then there is also puréed soups.
Puréed soups are like classical sauces in a way that they consist of a liquid and a thickener (usually a roux where butter and flour are combined). And for those looking for something more substantial, they would go for a creamy soup. Think of a creamy mushroom soup or cheesy broccoli cream soup, yum!
Honestly speaking, soups are super easy to make, and they barely take up a lot of time too. Heck, some soups can be made in less than 20 minutes. So long you know what ingredients and flavors will pair well together, you will get to enjoy a bowl of soup in no time! Also, with pressure pots available, all you have to do is toss all your ingredients in the pot and let time do its magic. Maybe, the part that takes some work in making the soup is the prepping such as cutting the ingredients into sizable pieces (Oh! Speaking of shapes! Here is an article on why vegetables are cut into different shapes and how they can make or break your dish).
Rule of thumb is your ingredients should be no bigger than your soup spoon! In Asia, families would usually have a main dish, a vegetable dish, and a soup dish to complete a meal. While in other countries you will find that soups can also be served on their own as a meal. With some thick slices of bread served alongside it as an accompaniment. Stews though are often served with crusty bread, over rice, or over mashed potatoes.
Soups come in two broad categories that are:
Clear soups, like the name suggests, they are clear because they are made from clear stock or broth, and they are not thickened. People often start off by sweating their aromatics like onions, ginger, scallions, and such, then following that up with the addition of stock (If you would like to make use of vegetable scraps to turn them into a lovely vegetable stock, read this article) or broth. Whatever that follows later could be other remaining ingredients.
The soup is then left to simmer until the vegetables are soft. People would also then add in cooked meats later and bring it to a boil. Though fishes and seafood which cook relatively fast can always be tossed in later and be served shortly after.
Thick soups aren’t as common in Asia except for mushroom- or chicken cream soup. But lately, there have been plenty of Western restaurants in Asia that do not shy away from serving thick soups as part of their menu. The list of thick soups can include plenty but also not limited to cream soups, chowders, bisques, or puréed soups.
For a closer look, you can use velouté sauce, bechamel sauce, or stock that has been thickened by roux to make cream soups. A more straightforward method would be using the main ingredient—could be mushroom, broccoli, asparagus, or potato, and then have them puréed properly.
These kinds of puréed soups are then often finished off with some cream, olive oil, or a mixture of egg and cream (also known as liaison) for a more full-bodied flavor. In some sense, puréed soups are quite close to cream soups, but people do not add starch to thicken them. Instead, their thickness comes from the ingredients’ natural starches such as mushrooms, broccolis, asparaguses, or potatoes that were puréed beforehand. To learn more on how you can thicken soups, we have an entire article written here.
Then you have the chowders. While chowders are served in restaurants around the country, it is in Maine and Massachusetts where it shines best and is extremely popular.
Usually made with potatoes and milk, and some sort of fish or shellfish, or even crackers. This means that chowders are typically chunky. Then you have the bisques which are more specific in the way they are prepared—crustaceans shells (seafood like lobster, crayfish, shrimp, or crab as the main ingredient) are grinded into a fine paste and simmered, then finished with either cream or milk.
So now that you have a picture of what soups can be. We will see what defines a stew.
What makes a ‘stew’ stew.
A stew can be more complex than a soup with a longer cooking time too. Stew ingredients are cut into larger pieces and are then cooked with the liquid where the liquid amount is less than what you would use for a soup. To make a stew hearty and comforting, home cooks would often use tough cuts of meat like lamb rump or beef chucks and let it soften on its own while the stew cooks, making the cooking process long.
Sometimes, flour would be used as a thickener and are cooked with the softened vegetables for a short amount of time. What this does is that it helps thicken the liquid and gives a nice coating over the stewed vegetables and meats. Recall that the main liquid used for soups are mostly water or stock, but in the case of cooking stew, they can contain cider or wine for extra flavor and edge.
That said, from culinary perspective, stewing and braising can mean the same thing as stew is made using the braising method. With a low heat turned on for a relatively long time in a covered pot that is either on a stovetop or in the oven, we braise so that the tough cuts of meat can break down overtime. That is how we get a very tender, succulent, and fall-off-the-bone meat at the end of it!
In terms of temperature, stews are practically never served cold. This is partially attributable to personal preference and also in parts to the stew’s sluggish process, which typically keeps the stew hot after it has been cooked and served. You can use any kind of meat you want, though normally, people would go for lamb shanks, brisket, beef chuck, or some beef short ribs as those cuts go amazing with the braising method. Even dark-meat cuts of chicken such as its thighs and drumsticks work wonders for stews. And depending on the type of meat and cut you choose; the cooking time is indefinite. You could go from an hour up to several hours! But we believe it will be worth it in the end.
The biggest take-away is...
You will find that soups are overall easy and require a shorter time to be done. However, stews would relatively require more time for it to be done and some patience is needed. It is also no surprise that soups are prepared and then eaten in a liquid state.
Stews though, are normally a blend of solid and liquid, and presented in a more robust manner. The solids are more dominant over the liquid content. Want the secret to creamier, thicker, and more luxurious tasting soups? Read on…
There’s Rich’s Double Cream.
We have got you covered. Undoubtedly the culinary pride of ours, we love introducing Rich’s Double Cream into your creations. It is an all-purpose cream that works beautifully with both hot and cold applications. Consisting of up to 30% fat content, it has an excellent fresh cream taste, a thick consistency, great acid tolerance, and is heat stable making it an excellent addition to your creations. Add them to your soups and taste the difference! Here is an informative read on what you can do with Rich’s Double Cream.
So, what’s cooking?
Easy recipes are perfect for surprises and weeknight dinners. And you will find that even with the simplest of ingredients and the right accompaniments, you can create irresistible dishes your whole family will enjoy. Find as much inspiration as you can with us from reading our Fun Facts section where we share some general, baking, culinary & beverage tips, or better yet, share your creations with us!