While we were in the Pacific Northwest we ate at this great place called Mo’s Restaurant right on the Columbia River.
We had (among other things) bowls of a fantastic New England style clam chowder and it brought up the question, what is the difference between a chowder and a bisque?
Both are creamy. Both often include seafood. Both are heavy and hearty. So what is the difference?
Nobody knew and we all had different ideas so I did some research. It seems like there is not a hard and fast line between the two dishes – but speaking in generalities…
- Bisque is more of a soup. A bisque is typically cooked seafood or seafood stock, often thickened with rice then pureed smooth. Typically wine and/or cream is added at the end just before you serve it. Here is an example of a vegetable bisque that we made a while back.
- Chowder is more of a chunky stew of vegetables (carrots, celery, onion…) often thickened with potatoes. In a chowder, the seafood and the cream are added right at the end because it doesn’t take long to cook the seafood.
Typically, in the Deep South, it seems we only eat chowders in deepest mid-winter, but you can find a bisque any old time.
Being this close to New Orleans, seafood is almost always mandatory for both chowders and bisques (although you do sometimes see non-seafood corn chowders or potato soups that would qualify as a chowder).
I searched the world (wide web) over for a good example of the difference, and perhaps you can see the differences by comparing the following two recipes.
In this Shrimp Chowder, the stew is made of the vegetables and spices and thickened with rice and flour. At the end just before serving, the shrimp and sherry are added.
Whereas, in this recipe, the shrimp and leeks and etc are cooked and pureed then thickened with a hot slurry of cream, butter, and flour (basically a blonde roux).
I bet both of them would be awesome, but for my tastes, I’d probably hit that Shrimp Chowder first every time!
All photos (except the two Food Network screenshots) courtesy of
Elise D. Parker – The Roaming Parkers