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Everything About How to Cook the Best Stews, Soups, and Chillies

You are about to find out everything you need to know about cooking the best seasonal stews, warming soups, and satisfying chilies. We will break it all down and provide you with all the answers to rock these seasonal dishes: including the best cuts of meat to use, fool-proof recipes, cooking methods, tips, and tricks.
Everything About How to Cook the Best Stews, Soups, and Chillies
Everything About How to Cook the Best Stews, Soups, and Chillies
Anna at SideChef
Content Specialist. Bitten by curiosity bug. Obsessed with words. Fuelled by coffee. Powered by Google. Love cheese, chocolate, and cherries. Don’t judge your taco by its price.
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Anna at SideChef
Content Specialist. Bitten by curiosity bug. Obsessed with words. Fuelled by coffee. Powered by Google. Love cheese, chocolate, and cherries. Don’t judge your taco by its price.

They call it the stew season for a reason! Once the weather turns chilly, families across America set out to make soups, stews, and chilies. When you’ve got a truckload of fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market, you simply must find the best ways to use them! Add the perfect cut of meat (if you’d like), and you will be on the right track to making some delicious seasonal stews and soups.

The right ingredients and a little bit of fire will help you cook the perfect dish. This article has everything you need to know—it’s just a matter of applying it to your ingredients. Not that it’s challenging to make a great version, but a few technical tricks go a long way toward pleasing everyone. So, let’s get right down to it and unlock the secrets to creating amazing seasonal dishes: stews, soups, and chilies.

Are Stews and Soups the Same?

What is stew? Well, it certainly isn’t the same thing as soup. While both are the ultimate seasonal comfort food, there’re a few significant differences between them.

Liquid Content

Soups and stews start with the same basic ingredients: meat or fish, a mix of vegetables, and a liquid component. It can be stock, water, milk, or broth, for example.


  • When making soup, your ingredients will be completely submerged in liquid.

  • When making a stew, the ingredients are just barely covered.

Cooking Time

When it comes to cooking time, soups and stews have very different demands as well.


  • Soups are only time-consuming because of all the chopping you need to make before cooking all of the ingredients in the liquid. Cooking itself might take as little time as 20 minutes for some classics like Chicken Noodle Soup, creamy pureed Mushroom Soup, or even less time-consuming easy Egg Drop Soup.

  • Stews sure are more complex and take longer to make. While you don’t have to chop the ingredients into spoon-friendly sizes, cooking a stew might require hours. All the ingredients need to simmer and meld together cooked in small amounts of liquid.
    It can take up to three hours for a Classic Beef Stew, Guinness Irish Lamb Stew, or a little less if you choose fish as your main ingredient.

Is Chili a Soup or a Stew?

This question has once rocked the world of culinary debates and caused a lot of commotion. There are many substantial arguments both in favor of chili being a soup and a stew, and if you are indeed interested in how this debate went down, no one has documented it better than Thrillist.

We are going just to leave chili be its own type of food for the sake of avoiding a new food category war.

Best Practices for Cooking Stupendous Seasonal Soups

We are about to break it down even further and answer every question you might have about making the perfect soup for the cold weather.
By following these easy tips, you can continue celebrating the change in season with recipes that are perfect for any occasion.

What Cut of Meat (or kind of fish) to Use for Soups?

As we have mentioned, the biggest differences between soups and stews are the amount of liquid and cooking time; let’s look at our options for soups.

Beef

If we choose cuts specifically for soups and do not plan to slow cook them, your best option is brisket or sirloin. They are somewhat more expensive than traditional stew cuts like chuck, but the fat and lean meat ratio in these cuts are better for making quick soups.

Brisket cuts are taken from the cow’s chest and have a good ratio of tough tissue and fat content. It’s also relatively inexpensive.

Sirloin cuts are taken from the back of the cow and are usually a bit more expensive.

Ground beef is another excellent choice for soups. You can make amazing meatball soups for a chili evening with ground beef. Or even have a Hearty Hamburger Soup instead of getting your fast food fix.

Ox Tail is another fantastic option to consider for a hearty soup. Like this not-so-quick yet absolutely delicious Chinese Oxtail Soup with cabbage and potatoes.

Note:
Do not use expensive tender cuts of beef for soups or stews. Ribeye or tenderloin are fantastic options for grilling or braising but don’t work at all in soups and stews.

These cuts are already tender, and cooking them for long periods of time actually leads to an opposite result. Overcooking tenderloin or ribeye cut would make them chewy and tough.

Poultry

Both chicken and turkey are excellent options for soup. No wonder one of the first names that come to our heads is Chicken Noodle Soup! Almost every world cuisine has a version of a chicken noodle soup cause that combination is simply perfect.
When you feel something extra special, check out this Chicken Tortilla Soup with Guacamole Wontons or this Hearty Turkey Soup we love.

Fish and Seafood

Seafood works perfectly in soups as well, so if you haven’t tried those before, we highly recommend them.
Seafood soups are popular worldwide, and they can be an excellent hearty seasonal meal as well.

When it comes to soups, you want to stick to firm white fish like cod, halibut, snapper, or even tilapia. Those hold together well, and you can still enjoy a good bite in the soup.

Flakier types of fish like salmon or trout are good options, but make sure not to overcook them to enjoy the flavors.

When it comes to slow-cooked chunky soups or chowders, stick to firm varieties of seafood like shrimp, calamari, octopus, clams, etc. The spicy Singaporean Seafood Laksa is bound to become one of your favorites, for instance. Or this Seafood Bisque that is simply good for your soul on a cold day.

Extra Tips and Tricks for the Best Soup


  1. The rule of thumb when it comes to chopping up the ingredients for soup is making sure a couple of those can fit into the soup spoon. So you can get a good taste in the spoonful of it. So chop in spoon sizes or a little bit smaller for the best soup experience.

  2. Use homemade stock or broth. It’s very easy to prepare stock or broth, and on top of that, it is 100% freezer-friendly. Making a big batch of Chicken Broth, Vegetable Stock, Bone Broth, or Shrimp Broth is going to save you both time and money.
    You can use any leftovers and make the most flavorful homemade broths and stocks
    for your soups. Just freeze them in airtight containers, and you are always soup ready.

  3. Add salt, pepper, and other seasonings as you go. It’s easy to adjust the flavors if you season your soup a bit at a time.

  4. Sweat the ‘aromatics’ before adding them to your soup. Vegetables like onions, garlic, carrots, and celery are called aromatics for the fantastic smell they add to the dish. Sautee them in oil or butter just enough to soften them up, and you will make your soups even more flavorful.

  5. Don’t over-boil, but simmer. Once the soup has come to boil, lower the temperature and let it simmer. Letting it boil for too long will just turn most ingredients into a mushy mess.

Everything to Know About Making Amazing Seasonal Stews

Follow these easy tips to prepare an incredible array of delicious, comforting cold-weather perfect stews that will whet the appetite and set stomachs rumbling every time.

What is the Right Stew Meat?

You might have heard the expression “stew meat cut,” but what does it actually mean?
Like soups, we don’t want to use any tender cuts of meat because it will lead us to an absolutely opposite result.

When it comes to the best cuts of meat for stew, the rule to follow is the Cheaper, the Better. So leave the tenderloins, ribeyes, and sirloin for something else and go for the chuck or the round.
The chuck comes from the shoulder and is typically a rectangular cut about 1-inch thick. It is also commonly known as a “7-bone steak,” as the shape of the shoulder bone resembles number seven. And it is the best cut for making stew.

When you simmer cheaper tough cuts at low temperature for hours, its rich connective tissue breaks down and releases all the gelatin, making the melt-in-you-mouth tender and flavorful, meaty stew.

So get some chuck cut, oxtail, or lamb and make some of the best stews you’ve ever had following some of our favorite step-by-step recipes like:

7 Tips and Tricks for Making the Best Stews Every Time

Stews are indeed a bit trickier than soups and require longer to make. Interestingly enough, a lot of cooking tips and tricks for stews and soups are the same. It never hurts to repeat, though, so here you go.


  1. Use homemade broths and stocks instead of store-bought options. It’s always a win. You can use the same recipes for homemade chicken, vegetable, or seafood stock we’ve mentioned in the soup section above.

  2. Sear the meat. This step just makes all the difference. Check out our Classic Beef Stew Collection to learn more about browning the meat for stew and why it is essential.

  3. Season as you go. This advice is universal for cooking most dishes, but it is essential for making a good stew. Decide on your stew seasoning profile from the very beginning and add seasoning and spices as you go. Start with seasoning your ‘aromatics’ during the sauteeing process, and season your meat with salt when browning.

  4. Deglaze your pan. When you’re done browning the meat, deglaze the pan using a splash of dry red wine, fruit juice, or the broth you are using. And then add that flavorful liquid into the stew. It will make the flavors mind-blowingly better.

  5. Add the vegetables at the right time. While the meat definitely needs time to tenderize and get that melty texture, most vegetables don’t need that long. So let the beef (of your meat of choice) simmer before you add the vegetable mixture.

  6. Don’t forget both fresh and dried herbs. Consider adding rosemary, coriander, bay leaves, thyme, or oregano, depending on the taste profile you prefer. Fresh herbs should go in last, but dried herbs can be added along the way.

  7. Experiment with umami-rich ingredients. Ingredients like dried mushrooms, black garlic, soy-bean paste, fish sauce, peanut butter, and even unsweetened cocoa powder do magic when it comes to savory dishes like stews or chilies. Don’t be afraid to try them.

Troubleshooting: Common Problems with Soups and Stews

Even when you do everything right, some things could go wrong (or just not perfect for your taste palette). So let’s troubleshoot some common mistakes when making soups, stews, or chilies.

How to Thicken Stews, Soups, or Chilies

The standard solution you will find is adding more starchy ingredients or even thickening it with a roux. We do not recommend it, though. You can evaporate more liquid content by simmering it longer with an open lid. Or add more starchy vegetables if you know you like your stews thicker. But don’t add extra starch when the dish is close to being done; it’s not gravy and doesn’t need to be super thick.

How to Fix a Stew that Tastes Bland

If you have been following the “season as you go” rule yet still ended up with a flavor you think is rather bland, use soy sauce, Worcester sauce, dry red wine, or tomato paste to fix this issue. Add a little at a time, taste, and add more if needed.

What If It Is Too Oily

If your stew or soup turned out too oily (can be very common when using oxtail), don’t be afraid to scoop out the oil gathered on top before serving. If you’re making the dish ahead and planning to let it chill, it’s even easier. The extra fat will harden on the surface and will be easy to remove before reheating.

One last thing before we move on to some of our favorite Stew, Soup, and Chili recipes. Yes, it is very much possible to overcook the stew. So stay within the sweet spot of about three hours.

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