No, it’s not the type of cuisine they originate from. While bisque definitely sounds like the more chi-chi of the two, both actually have roots in French culinary tradition. A little FYI for the trivia nerds: The name chowder is said to come from the from “chaudron,” the French word for cauldron. (Seriously, say it five times fast and you can actually kind of hear it.)
What’s that? The ingredients? No, not exactly. Both are typically prepared with seafood and cream. Although it’s true that chowders will incorporate a broad spectrum of sea delicacies—mollusks, crustaceans, fish, you name it—whereas a classic bisque is specifically based on the broth of a shellfish (aka lobster, shrimp, crab, langoustine, and crawfish). And, interestingly enough, both styles of soup have even had vegetable-based variations added to their repertoire. Although bisque purists would insist that any non-shellfish rendition is no longer a bisque, but rather a “cream of” soup.
Seriously guys, the answer is staring you right in the face. It’s the same thing that distinguishes smooth peanut butter from chunky peanut butter: Texture. Both are thick, rich soups, but really, the big, defining disparity between the two is the fact that the ingredients in a bisque are blended until smooth and creamy, while chowders leave the pieces intact.
Explore the following recipes to help decide whether your soup preferences lean more Team Smooth or Team Chunky.
Let’s be honest, rutabaga isn’t the sexiest, most sought after item in the fall vegetable patch. But I’ll tell you what, this soup does a pretty A+ job of transforming the lowly root vegetable into a compelling dinner companion. You can thank a generous sprinkling of paprika for giving this velvety, earthy soup a kick of smoky spice. Get our Smoked Paprika and Rutabaga Bisque recipe.
Think of this soup as the perfect way to show fall that while you’re bummed summer is over, you’ve got nothing but love for the bounty of its season’s produce. Green apples turn from tart to sweet when roasted in the oven, balancing out the creamy puréed pumpkin. Coconut milk adds to the silkiness of the soup, and a sweet-savory pecan crumble garnish adds a welcome crunch. Get the recipe.
It’s a beautiful thing, seeing two partners so clearly destined for each other come together in one place. Peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, or, in this case, creamy tomato soup and grilled cheese. Roasting the fresh plum tomatoes first helps concentrate their sweet, juicy flavor, while a heavy handed pour of cream lends richness to the bisque. And because crispy, gooey grilled cheese deserves better than to just be some sideshow act, here the sandwich is shaped into little bite-size dumplings and served on top of the soup as a kind of mad genius crouton. Get our Creamy Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwich Dumplings recipe.
Hey, look, don’t get me wrong, shrimp, crab, crawfish can all make a fine bisque. But when it comes down to it for me, it’s like, there’s lobster bisque and yada yada yada to everything else. Of course, there’s the obvious pro: Chunks of luxurious lobster tail meat, as the garnish. But really the main story here is the soup, a deeply flavored, sea-salty shell broth enriched with aromatics, sweet tomato paste, and made all fat and happy with butter and cream. Get the recipe.
Curry, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger—your spice cabinet is a treasure trove of bisque inspiration. Here, a bold multi-spice blend helps basic, creamy carrot soup channel the exotic flavors of Moroccan cuisine, while paprika-flecked roasted chickpeas lend an extra layer of flavor and textural dimension. Get the recipe.
One of the beauties of a classic bisque is its unabashed devotion to a singular ingredient. This thick, hearty soup is a celebration of shroom unfettered by supporting characters like exotic spices and creative garnishes. The formula is simple: Intense, umami-rich broth base brewed from dried mushrooms, a pound of your favorite fungi blended in for texture, the requisite makes-everything-taste-better butter and cream, and a little shout-out to sherry and thyme in the flavorings department. Get the recipe.
Growing up in New England, you’re conditioned to have a kind of knee-jerk, Pavlovian response to the word “chowder.” Your mouth suddenly starts to water as visions of tender clams in a stick-to-your-ribs thick, potato-and-bacon-studded soup dance in your head. This version gets props for simplifying and speeding up the process a bit by swapping fresh clams for the comparably good combination of bottled clam juice and canned chopped clams. Get our Easy New England Clam Chowder recipe.
If you’re more of a light, broth-based chowder fan but maybe want to switch things up from the ubiquitous clam, try giving salmon a shot. In this rendition, the flaky pieces of fish star in a loose, silky broth that is dotted with chunks of potatoes, carrots, and celery, and brightened with a swirl of cilantro pesto. Get our Salmon Chowder with Cilantro Pesto recipe.
Corn and chowder have been pals for a long time now. If it’s not holding court on its own, you can find it partying with potatoes or chicken, keeping classy with lobster, or simply kicking it with poblanos. In this recipe, the sweet, snappy kernels partner up with smoky barbecue shrimp in a chowder that will help you touch base with the beloved flavors of summer even in the darkest, coldest reaches of winter. Get the recipe.
Good-for-you ingredients like meaty mushrooms and dense, nutty wild rice help bulk out this filling chowder, so you don’t have to feel too guilty about the fact that it doesn’t skimp on the butter, cream, and bacon. Get our Mushroom and Wild Rice Chowder recipe.
File this under ideas you’ll want to remember come Thanksgiving season. It goes without saying that the Leftover Sandwich is a Black Friday lunch must, but what about dinner? The tradition in our family has always been to go the turkey soup route because it requires minimal time and effort, and dammit if you’re not allowed to be a little lazy in the kitchen after putting on a feast like that. This version smartly keeps the broth on the lighter, thinner side in case your pants are still a little tight from the day before. Get the recipe.
Go against the grain with this non-traditional chowder that cleverly uses quinoa to provide the expected hearty texture and salty, tangy feta cheese in place of the usual cream. Who said chowder could only be a cheat night meal? Get our Quinoa Chowder with Spinach, Feta, and Scallions recipe.