Learn how to refer to various soups by name and know what to order from a menu - thin soups, thick soups, potage and veloutés are not the same thing!
Soup categories are dear to people who study the history of gastronomy– whether travelling home or abroad. Every culinary tradition has its own rules and definitions and it’s a good idea to know what they are.
Soup or potage
The word soup has the same meaning in all European languages and derives from the Gothic word, suppa, which refers to a slice of bread that is placed in a bowl before broth is poured over it. It is the most widespread form of soup and the most generic term to define it, covering such dishes as ribollita toscana, cabbage borscht, French soupe à l’oignon and fish soup or harira, which is prepared in many Arab countries.
In Italian, minestra means a soup containing pasta or rice, but never bread, and minestrone is a very thick soup. The term is said to have originated with the discovery of the New World and the introduction of vegetables such as potatoes and beans, which did not exist in Europe before this period.
In France, the word potage means a thick, rich soup that is either processed through a food mill or contains cut-up vegetables, sometimes with pasta added. The ingredients are all cooked together in the same pot, from which it takes its name.
In the UK, chowder means a chunky soup thickened with flour to which beef, pork or seafood can be added. Clam chowder is very popular in Ireland. This soup also takes its name from the pot in which it is cooked and was once a traditional fisherman’s dish. Corn chowder is now an American classic.
Consommé or broth
These are broth-based soups to which pasta, rice, croutons, eggs or pieces of meat or fish can be added. In addition to the traditional single consommé, made with filtered broth, there is double consommé, which is condensed and clarified. Throughout Asia, broth is served with noodles made with common wheat in China and South-east Asia or with buckwheat, used in Japanese udon.
Scotch broth, despite its name, is a hearty soup with meat, vegetables and barley.
Cream soup or velouté
Vellutata in Italian or velouté in French is a soup that is put through a food mill or processed with a blender or immersion blender and contains vegetables to which egg yolks are added at the end of cooking to bind the flavours and to give the soup a smooth texture. But a word of caution: in France velouté usually means a sauce, such as béarnaise sauce or béchamel, and not a soup.
Creams or cream soup are preparations where the ingredients, reduced to a purée, are bound by a flour roux and milk or broth. For cold leak and potato vichyssoise, vegetables, broth and cream – without the flour – are used.
Passato di verdure, a soup that is put through a food mill, is a combination of vegetables with no pasta or rice and reduced to a runny purée.