Chowders and Bisques— Simple and Elegant
Add bread and salad, and you have a perfect winter meal.
I have been eating chowder and bisque most of my adult life, but I never really stopped to think about their origins. Both chowder and bisque have their beginnings in French cooking, but what is the difference?
Chowder comes from the French word for cauldron, a large cooking vessel used to make stews. When we think of chowder, thick and hearty come to mind, as well as something soothing for cold-weather eating. Chowders can be endless in their makeup, and can contain any- and everything from vegetables to meat, seafood and poultry. How many of us have made thick turkey chowder with Thanksgiving leftovers or craved that extra bowl of corn chowder?
Bisque is a whole different meal, and the etymology of the word is not clear; some say it is a combination of bis, meaning twice, and cuites, meaning again—since lobster and shrimp shells are not discarded, but cooked twice and puréed to provide a rich base for the soup. Bisque is elegant and smooth, and often features wine and cream as ingredients. However, I often use rice as a thickener in place of cream.
The most obvious and popular bisque is lobster bisque, but in today’s kitchens, bisques are also created with vegetables, such as the delicious zucchini bisque on page 29. Tomato and squash bisques are also popular, filling and satisfying.
Chowders can stand the test of a few days in the refrigerator and taste even better the next day. Bisques are delicate, and best made and consumed right away.
One of the techniques I employ when making a vegetable bisque is to cut everything very small; this not only shortens the cooking time, but makes it very easy to purée the soup. An immersion blender is the perfect tool for the job, but a food processor or blender can be used as well.
For chowders, vegetables should be cut into small chunks—all the same size. Try to use vegetables that will cook together in the same amount of time; for instance, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and celery will all cook well together. For less dense vegetables—such as onion, zucchini and eggplant—add them to the pot about five minutes later.
Elegant bisques and comfort-food chowders can add variety for cold-weather meals. Add a salad and some nice crusty rolls to round out the meal, and winter won’t seem so bad.