French soups run the gamut from chowders thick with seafood to delicate consommés with just a few thin slices of vegetables floating on top. In French cooking, you will find them served both hot and cold and even for dessert!
Types of Soup
Is it a soupe or a potage?
You will find French soup recipes referred to as both soupe and potage. The word soupe originally referred to whatever you used to sop up the liquid in your bowl, and these days a soupe usually has things floating in it and is perhaps a bit more rustic than the more refined potage. Two classic examples that demonstrate this distinction are French Onion Soup, which is topped with toasted bread and cheese, and Potage St. Germain, a smooth split pea soup.
Some other terms that you may find useful in understanding French soups are:
Le bouillon: This is the cooking liquid in which vegetables, beef, chicken, or fish have been boiled. It is a concentration of flavors that serves as a basis for consommmés and potages.
Le consommé: A consommé is a bouillon of beef, poultry or fish, that has been clarified and garnished with other ingredients that may cook for a short while in the consommé. It is served at the start of a meal, and mostly reserved for long, special occasion meals. A consommé may contain truffles, morel mushrooms, asparagus or other delicately flavored vegetables. It might be flavored with Porto or a similar wine.
Le velouté: This is a smooth and creamy soup that has been prepared with a puree of vegetables. Cream, egg yolk, and/or butter are sometimes added to give more body to a velouté. Popular veloutés include mushroom, tomato, carrot, pumpkin, and leek or combinations of these vegetables.
La crème: This is an even more creamy and smooth soup. It usually features a good amount of heavy cream. Vichyssoise is an example of a cream soup. You will find cream of asparagus, cream of mushroom, and cream of lettuce. Some even more unusual creams include cream of watercress, cream of sorrel, and to my mind the strangest, cream of thistle!
La bisque: A bisque is a velouté made from lobster, crab or shrimp. It is usually enriched with cream and blended until smooth. Bisque is surprisingly spicy for French food and recipes may include some cayenne pepper or curry powder,
cognac and white wine.
Other French Seafood Soups: You will find a variety of French seafood soups. Several regions have their own special version. Two well known examples are bouillabaisse, which features a variety of fish and is flavored with fennel and dried orange peel, and its cousin, bourride, which is commonly made from monkfish and includes lots of garlic. I couldn't say exactly what region this yummy seafood soup featuring cream and scallops comes from, but it sure is good.
Rouille: French soups are sometimes accompanied by rouille sauce, which is made from garlic, peppers, bread, egg yolk and olive oil. This sauce gets its name from its color - rouille means rust. It is commonly spread on toasted slices of bread which you than float in the soup.
Pistou: This is another soup accompaniment found in Provence. It is made from basil, garlic and olive oil and is typically served with a vegetable and bean soup.