Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages: It’s time for yet another of the greatest food battles of this or any generation. In the left corner: it’s chunky, it’s hearty, it’ll fill you up with one bowl, it’s stew! And in the right corner: the smooth, piping hot hug when you’re feeling sick, it’s soup! Two titans, ready to slug it out for ultimate comfort food supremacy. Let the battle begin: soup vs stew!
Stew vs soup: Let’s talk stew
When it comes to stew, damn boy, he thick. Stew is known for its huge chunks of ingredients, often cut so large they can be eaten with a fork. The term stew also refers to the method of cooking. Stewing is a process in which ingredients are slowly simmered in a pot of liquid that barely covers the ingredients. This often leads to a long cook time—the low and slow approach helps infuse the stew with flavors from all the ingredients.
There are a lot of different subcategories of stew. Perhaps the most common is “Insert Meat Here” stew. This means that any kind of meat—beef, chicken, lamb, veal, seafood—is cooked in a broth with hearty root vegetables like carrots, onions, turnips, and potatoes, to name a few. Irish beef stew is a classic example of this category.
Stew shows its versatility in many regions of the United States. New Orleans is a stew town of particular note; etouffee and gumbo can both be categorized as stews. The classic Tex-Mex chili con carne, the Southern chicken mull, the San Franciscan cioppino, and the upper midwest booyah are all American-style stews.
Internationally, there are dozens of varieties: Hungarian goulash, Mongolian hot pot, Filipino kare-kare, Mexican pozole, French ragout, Indian rogan josh, North African tajine, Indonesian pindang, and Brazilian moqueca, just to name a few.
The overarching theme: hot pile of big ingredients, small pool of liquid.
Soup vs stew: Let’s talk soup
It’s true that soup can have some chunky ingredients; anyone who’s had chicken noodle soup or Italian wedding soup can attest to that. But what really defines the soup is the liquid. The word soup instantly conjures in my mind a wide bowl of tomato soup whose surface is so still and flat you could hold the Stanley Cup Finals on it.
The general gist of the dish is to boil ingredients in liquid, be it a stock, water, or milk, ultimately creating a broth that is infused with those flavors. The ingredients can stay in the soup, but they could also be strained out. Or, they could be pureed to make up part of the liquid—think of creamy butternut squash soup as an example. Soup also doesn’t have to be hot—cold soups like gazpacho are out there waiting to be slurped down.
Soup can be found pretty much anywhere in the world, from Japanese miso soup to New England crab bisque. The thing that unites them all is that they should be able to be sipped like a hot cup of tea.
What’s the difference between soup and stew?
So, what’s the difference between stew and soup? Stews are always hot. They’re made with big, chunky ingredients, and they don’t include a lot of liquid. Soups are hot or cold, they can be chunky or smooth, but they’re usually heavy on the broth. Is stew soup? We’d say no. But they’re very close cousins (some might say uncomfortably close).
Stew vs soup: Who wins?
This is a tough choice, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for coming down hard on one side or the other. For me, I have to compare my ideal in each category. For soup, it’s a creamy tomato alongside a grilled cheese sandwich for dipping, of course. For stew, it has to be my mom’s homemade chili. And there’s the difference: Even my ideal soup needs something to accompany it, whereas a stew has everything you need already in there. Sorry, soup. You’re perfect for sick days, but every other day, I’m a stew boy.