Apparently, French kitchens are a relatively straight-forward concept in comparison to the whole “soup vs. stew” debate.

I recently received a comment from Joe, a reader and classmate, in response to a recent post on what I considered a minor detail: is a soup a stew? Is a stew a soup? What about Rachel Ray and her portmanteau of “stoup”? And just where the  heck does that leave chowder?

I’ve done a little light reading on the subject (limited due to the interference of one Mr. Charles Dickens) of the difference in order to better educate myself, and I can’t help but find it mildly comical that what started out as a simple class project has led me to self-discovery and to greater knowledge (not to mention a bunch of other tasty blogs). According to the article Soup vs. Stew: Difference in Details, there is a legitimate difference between soup and stew. To paraphrase the information given (see above link for full text), soup is not only more fluid than stew but also less hearty. In comparison, stew is mainly comprised of the “goodies” (meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc.) surrounded by a minimal amount of gravy. However, soup contains a thinner liquid. Furthermore, while stew can stand as the main dish, soup is generally seen as a “first course.”

According to a different article found in a food dictionary, one that compares definitions from another source, different sorts of soups had varying consistencies depending on how its made, whereas stew constitutes as any dish that is prepared through the process of stewing. Soups apparently encompass a wide variety of dishes from the thinnest of consommés to the chunkiest of chowders (again paraphrasing from the above link), whereas stews are a combination of hearty ingredients immersed in “a thick, soup-like broth.” Like the author of this particular source, I question the validity of this definition as it uses the word “soup” to define “stew” and transforms the matter into a culinary paradox of sorts. Just where does the soup end and the stew begin?

In my own experiences, I can definitely see a difference between the dishes in terms of texture. Stew tends to be heartier and contain large chunks. The fluid base is thicker as well. The problem is I have had my fair share of soups in life, everything from a mushroom bisque at a French bistro in Columbus to the classic beef and vegetable my grandmother used to make. My palette has been charmed by the homemade French Onion soup, served in a miniature crock with a large crouton and topped with mozzarella cheese that has been broiled to perfection. I have ventured into everything from chicken and potato curry soup with mushrooms to broccoli cheddar. My tongue is a more seasoned traveler than I am, having been to Mexico, China, Texas, Italy, France, and Louisiana (but not New England… I never was a clam chowder fan; they’re a little too snotty for me). In my experience, stew has not taken me to the same places (although I did go to Morocco once in a crock pot).

In light of this culinary conundrum, and at Joe’s suggestion, I have decided to poll my readers about whether or not stew constitute as “fair game” in this fourteen-week challenge. I have plans for the next two soups already, so on February 11, depending on the results of this poll, add a “stew clause” to the existing guidelines I wrote in my first entry.

Aside from voting in this poll, of course invite readers to comment and leave their rationale (and to persuade others to see things their way… because what fun would a friendly debate–or Jane Austen, for that matter–be without Persuasion?). I have included the links to my source information but invite other research (informed voting is the best kind) and would also be interested in seeing this information.

Forget football. This is the Super Bowl.