Is There a Difference Between Soup and Stew?

Here's the scoop.

beef stew

Soups and stews are so much alike in nature that you may often worry about incorrectly calling a soup a stew or a stew a soup. No? Well, just in case this question ever comes up in a trivia game, here is a quick lesson on the basic difference between soups and stews. While they both rely on the same foundation of ingredients, there is one important factor that differentiates these two cold-weather favorites.

Soups and stews have common basic elements: they are both a combination of vegetables, meat, or fish cooked in liquid. What sets these two warm and hearty dishes apart is the amount of liquid that's used for each. Soups have much more liquid, and stews usually contain much less.

Low down on soup. Visualize your favorite chicken soup; you will see that the main component is liquid, regardless of whether it is a creamy, brothy, or puréed recipe. The other ingredients, such as vegetables and or a meat, are cut into bite-size pieces, covered with water or stock, brought to a boil, and then simmered for a while to coax out the flavors. Some soups come together quick and easy and are ready in under 30 minutes, while others take full advantage of a longer cook time.

Real deal on stew. Did you have a favorite beef stew growing up? It was probably thick and chunky, right? A stew is a mixture of larger-cut vegetables, meat, or poultry that are just barely covered with water or stock, and simmered over low heat for a longer period of time. Slow cookers have become a popular appliance in Southern kitchens because it is so convenient to prepare a stew in the slow cooker in the morning, and come home to a hot meal that evening. While cooking, the liquid cooks down into a flavorful gravy that is ladled up along with the solid ingredients. And while the liquid of a soup is typically water or stock, wine or beer is often used in stews for added flavor. Some stews can also get a tasty kick-start with flour or a roux.

A mug of hot soup and a few crunchy crackers is really quite satisfying on a cool afternoon, but a thick, hearty stew likes to be ladled over hot rice, mashed potatoes, egg noodles, or pasta. Whatever your choice, a soup or a stew, be sure and pair it with some hot homemade bread.

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