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May 2, 2008 07:28 PM

Difference between Chowders & Cream Soup

For the dinner the other evening I wanted to use what I had, which wasn't much. Had a sack of red potatos, a few strips of bacon, green onions and milk and evaporated milk. I made either Potato Chowder or Cream of Potato soup... and I got to thinking, what is the difference? Anyone know?

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  1. IMO - chowder has chunks - cream soup usually blended

    1. Cream of Potato Soup would be a cream-based soup (maybe cream or milk and chicken broth) in which the potatoes were thoroughly pureed, thickening the liquid.

      Potato Chowder is a cream and broth based soup (some may argue about the broth) in which the potatoes are in small cubes, and possibly there are other ingredients like clams and clam broth for clam chowder (but always with potatoes). The soup will not be as thick as cream of potato soup, but will be somewhat thickened either with a white roux or by pureeing some of the potatoes.

      2 Replies
      1. re: wayne keyser

        I guess I made a hybred! ; )

        My potatoes were cubed small and I used chicken broth, but I did not have cream. Just milk and evaporated milk.

        1. re: hexepatty

          The milk and evap milk: plenty good enough, IMO. I meant to include both options in both descriptions.

      2. Tradition and geography! Read John Thorn's Serious Pig. If it is in New England and by the sea it is chowdah. If you're form away and a flatlander it is soup. Evidently, the word chowder evolved from the word for the French fisherman's pot in which the soup/stew was cooked.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Passadumkeg

          More specifically:

          "The most accepted etymology for the word chowder comes from the pot in which it is cooked. The French word chaudron translated means "a pot," developed from chaud, "hot" (also related to the Latin calderia and English cauldron). The word "chowder" is a New England word that came from Newfoundland, where Breton fishermen — who would throw portions of the day's catch and other available foods into a large pot — introduced the word, and perhaps the fish soup itself (compare bouillabaisse). Another possible origin for the word chowder is derived from the Old English "jowter", which means fishmonger (one who peddles fish)."

          Unrelated, of course, to "Chow"as in "Chowhound", which derives from the Chinese Chow-chow.

          1. re: RicRios

            John Thorne musta made that entry. Sounds just like the def. in Serious Pig. He also adds a few interesting side note. Manhattaan Clam chowder was origianally Italian clam soup but changed to chowder to appeal to a broader range of "Mericans. And the New England vs Manhattan clam chowder, ie. the tomato, battle began about the same time Babe Ruth went from Boston to the Yankees. There is documrntation that canned tomatoes were added to southern New England chowders in the second half of the 19th century. What fun.

        2. Cream soups usually have a thickening agent/liquid added to their base, such as a roux,slurry, or milk, or cream and other along with other ingreidients such as vegatables and or meats are pureed or blended to a smooth creamy consistency. Chowders are similar except that they have chunks of their main ingredients and are thus considered heartier. Personally I think that a chowders liquid should be thick, the thicker the better, with lots of the chunked ingredients in every spoonful.

          8 Replies
          1. re: crt

            Most chowder I've had was as thick as any cream soup.... I've had a couple (which I don't prefer) that you could practically stand the spoon in. I'll introduce another variant: One seafood "bisque" I recently had in NH CT was almost like jello. It didn't slosh in the bowl; it jiggled.
            Should a pureed cream of potato soup be called creamed potato bisque?

            1. re: Scargod

              "Most chowder I've had was as thick as any cream soup...."

              Hence my statement...Chowders are similar except that they have chunks of their main ingredients and are thus considered heartier.

              "I've had a couple (which I don't prefer) that you could practically stand the spoon in."

              Scarqod, I guess it's a matter of personal taste. Again for me the thicker the better.

              As far as your variant is concerned...Bisque is just a thick cream(y) soup in that its ingredients are pureed or processed in a food processor. Its French roots are of the 'seafood' vaiety, but bisque is also sometimes used to refer to cream-based soups that do not contain seafood such as tomato, mushroom, squash etc. etc. And again, thickness is a matter of personal taste. Some probably prefer a thicker bisque while others may prefer a thinner bisque.

              1. re: crt

                I have no argument with what you have said. Potatoes will thicken liquids as will flour (roux), cornstarch, arrowroot, etc. Thickness can be affected by reduction or temperature. I love a thick potato or pea soup.
                I take issue when the dish tastes too much of the roux or bechamel and not enough of the advertised ingredients or style. Sometimes they will start to feel grainey on the palate or thick, yet weak in flavor. Depending on the dish, I may think cheap or sloppy (execution) when this occurs.

            2. re: crt

              Well, traditional chowders were only thickened by the starch of the potatoes and some dairy (milk and/or cream, or a dollop of butter) - though some New England chowders have no dairy - and crackers (like pilot crackers). Other thickeners (like roux or cornstarch) became more common to hold chowders over heat for hotel and then restaurant service, because they stalled curdling. And too much dairy fat tends to blunt the fresh taste of the sea that is characteristic of the traditional chowder (but then again, many Americans don't like that taste and so favor a lot of dairy in their chowder).

              Many lovers of traditional chowders here in New England have to fight tooth and nail to encourage old time places to continue to make thin chowders, and not cave into the more modern expectation (especially but far from exclusively of tourists) of chowders being thick. Sigh.

              1. re: Karl S

                You got me thinking: I live in N Carolina, but was brought up by a proper Bostonian mother. She made Clam and Corn chowders (with potatoes) and I NEVER saw her add flour or corn starch.

                1. re: hexepatty

                  According to 'new' Joy, early NE chowder was made with household staples: salt pork, local fish and seafood, thickened with sea biscuits or bread. Potato and dairy are 19th century additions.

                  That earlier style reminds me of Newfoundland 'fish and brewis' - hardtack is broken up, soaked in water, and then cooked with fish.

                  Bread thickened soups are traditional in parts of Europe. For example in Spain, most gaspachos (hot or cold) have a bread thickener.


                  1. re: paulj

                    Yes, potatoes and especially dairy (which didn't keep at sea) are 19th century landlubber additions. The use of roux and cornstarch is an even later development, especially popularized by restaurants and by cookbook authors whose wanted to create recipes that were not risky in terms of curdling.

                    1. re: paulj

                      My mother would season her chowders with salt pork in both the corn and clam chowders. I try not to use it, but man does it taste GREAT in the Corn Chowder!

              2. I would echo the regional/traditional definition. In one way or another, chowder is linked to the New England clam chowder. Potato and corn chowders have the same thick creamy character, but without the clams. Manhattan and Rhode Island clam chowders have a different consistency, but still use the clams.

                Plenty of places have potato soups, which can be smooth or chunky. But without the New England link there is little reason to call them chowders. For example in the Andean countries, potato soups are practically a national dish.


                2 Replies
                1. re: paulj

                  This Ecuadorian 'locro de papas' calls for mashing the soft potatoes to make a creamy soup with some tender chunks:
                  Seasoning comes from onion, garlic, cumin, cheese, and various tropical style toppings. No bacon.


                  1. re: paulj

                    You are all so learned! It's a joy to read.