Chowder or Soup?


Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a chowder and a soup? Or, for that matter, what exactly makes a dish a bisque instead of a soup–other than the reputation and cost of the restaurant serving it?

True to the Internet’s vast supply of information, half information and misinformation, there are all kinds of definitions offered if you try to Google the differences. Several sites offer the distinction as being simply whether milk (or cream) is in the mix or not; if it’s base is dairy, these sites suggest, you should call it a chowder. Hmm, cream of mushroom chowder? Broccoli chowder? Just doesn’t seem right, especially for those of us who grew up on those ubiquitous red and white Campbell’s cans of cream of everything. There might have been a Campbell’s clam chowder, but I think just about all the rest of their mainstays were good old, all-American soup.

Two sites that seem to have some credibility (based on other resources as well) give an interesting history, tying the term to both seafood and an American-ized corruption of the dish that chowders were served in. If you want to read more, go to—What-Makes-A-Chowder,-A-Chowder?&id=744788


As for bisques? It appears that the big difference here is in the pureeing step that results in an overall creamy texture. As good an explanation as any appears here:

I started looking at these terms after making what seemed like a corn chowder this week, but I wasn’t really sure if the recipe qualified. According to the definitions I found, it probably is on the edge of being a soup and a chowder. No seafood, but that is no longer a requirement to make it a chowder. There isn’t any bacon, another common ingredient, but there is ham, along with plenty of potatoes and enough corn to be considered a corn chowder. Whatever it is called, here is what turned out to be a wonderfully warming meal with homemade artisan bread and apple crisp for dessert. This has a rich golden color because of the “hidden” squash, adding to both the appearance and nutrition of the final dish.

And, as with many soups, this is even better the next day, warmed bowl by bowl in the microwave for individuals or reheated for a second family meal.

NOTE: I had baked a 7 pound ham and used much of the meat for other meals. The bone and perhaps a couple of cups of meat clinging to it were used for this soup, along with the juices that had been left from baking the ham (I don’t use a sweetened glaze on my hams. If you do, the juices will likely not work for this soup.) This is a perfect use for a ham bone, but you can also buy some “ham hocks” or a small bone-in, pre-cooked ham as well. If you take this approach, cook the ham according to the package directions-or just put in a pan on the stove or in the oven and simmer until it begins to fall off the bone.)

Golden Ham and Corn Chowder

1 meaty ham bone, and juices (see NOTE)
1 to 2 T reserved ham fat OR canola oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
3 celery ribs, diced (about 2 cups)
1 bell pepper, diced (about 3/4 cup)
5 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced (about 4 to 5 cups)
8 oz butternut squash puree
16 oz corn–may use up to 32 ounces if you want this really “corny”–this may be fresh, frozen, or canned, whatever you have available
15 oz can evaporated milk
1 c nonfat dry milk powder
1 t thyme
seasoning salt to taste
1 t ground black pepper, or more to taste

Slowly saute the onions and celery in the reserved ham fat or oil until the onions are golden and almost caramelized, about 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the potatoes and put into a large soup pot or large slow cooker along with the diced pepper, squash, ham bone and juices. Add enough water to cover well (probably about 1 or 2 quarts, depending on the amount of ham juices available) and begin cooking slowly. Add the onions and celery when done along with the seasonings. The ham that I used was one of the new reduced sodium products, so it did need just a bit of seasoning salt. Do be sure to taste before adding any salt however.

Cover and cook over low for about an hour to two hours, until the potatoes are almost tender.

About an hour before serving, remove the ham bone and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Add the evaporated milk, dry milk, and corn. If needed, add a bit more water to bring to desired thickness, and taste again for seasonings.  Then return the diced ham to the soup.

This will make about a gallon of soup, depending on how “soup-y” you make it, how large the ham bone is, and how much corn you include. It reheats well and may be frozen.


Add a can (or more) of green chilis with the corn and milk.

Use red bell peppers instead of the green peppers for a bright touch of color.

Leave a Reply