One-Pot Cooking

From Eating Asturias, the Encyclopedia of Asturian Gastronomy
a pot of stew on the stove

One-Pot cooking is the heart and soul of Asturian food. While the rest of Spain might serve a vegetable dish followed by a meat dish, Asturias tends to put everything together. To me, it is one of the best things about Asturian cooking.

In Spain, these dishes are called platos de cuchara, "spoon dishes", and they run the gamut from simple broths and boullions (caldo) to hearty stews (estofados and guisos). Let’s dive into the murky world of Spanish one-pot cooking and see what we can fish out of the stew in the way of definitions. First, a warning. The Spanish language is not one of incredible specificity. Particularly not when it comes to nouns related to food. Definitions are fleeting for most of the terms below, and the number of exceptions many times outweighs the number of exemplars. That, to me, is reason alone to try to make some sense of it.

These are all various types of “making food in a big pot”, shall we? Each entry will have the common American English term as used, and the best equivalent in Spanish and / or Asturian.

Broth and Stock – Caldo

At the most elemental end of things, we have broth or stock. While often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference.[1] I put them here together as caldo for two reasons. Firstly, because in Asturias (and Spain) there is no difference and we are talking about Asturian food.[2][3] And secondly because the difference is so slight as to be of absolutely no interest to the home cook.[4][5]

Pedantic Distinctions

A broth is made by simmering meat and/or vegetables in water, often with herbs, or other aromatic added. Broth is also a relatively quick thing to make, usually taking an hour or less to make. You can drink broth plain. Many people do just that as a cold remedy.

Stock, on the other hand, is made by simmering bones and/or cartilage in water. The point is to free the collagen in the bones or cartilage and infuse it into the water. This requires a much longer cooking time. Stock-making in a restaurant can be a multi-day process. Even at home, it is not uncommon for a good stock to take 24 hours to prepare. Traditionally, you aim to make as neutral a stock as possible, cleaning the bones of any meat and roasting them before beginning the stock making process. Neutral stock like that has no added vegetables or herbs, and is for adding mouthfeel to a later dish. As I said before, no one really actually cares about those distinctions unless you need to differentiate between "things used to make classical sauces, braises, or daubes in a French Restaurant" and "things used to make soups and consommé in a French restaurant"[6][7] Another way is think of the American pedantic definition of Broth as court bouillon, and stock as bouillon, which is the most likely origin of the confusion.[8]

Pottage – potaje or pote

Historically, a pottage was a thick soup or stew made by boiling vegetables with grains, and sometimes meat.[9] Pottage was essentially the medieval food. You could say that pottage is what existed before there were soups and stews – when we cooked everything together and hoped for enough calories, and maybe a little flavor if we got lucky. These days, the only surviving American example is succotash.[10] Technically, we should call any modern soup or stew that has grains cooked in the pot with the other ingredients a pottage. In many places, Spain included, potaje now means something completely different.

Nowadays in Spain a potaje (pote in Asturian) is a brothy soup containing beans of some sort. To that you add vegetables or starches – which ones depends on the region of Spain you find yourself in.[11]

In Asturias, a pote (or, less frequently, a potaxe) is a soup made with beans and greens. Often made with potatoes, but also without. Collard greens (berza) are preferred, but others are used as well.

Soup – Sopa or Cocido

You can make the simplest soup by removing the meat used to make a broth, chopping it up, and adding it back to the broth. That is the basic recipe for chicken soup. From that base, you can make more complicated soups. However, they all retain the same basic meaning. They are a dish whose main component is liquid. From cream soups (purés and cremas) to chunky chowders and elegant bisques, they are all soups. Yes, cocido is a soup.

Like in English, Spanish has many words for specific types of soups. Creamy soups, pureed soups, chunky soups, and on and on.

Stew – Guiso or Estofado

Unlike a soup, a stew is not a liquid with solid things in it. It is much more of a plate of solid things with a lot of sauce on them. A stew starts out looking like a chunky soup, but is cooked low and slow for long enough to reduce all the liquid into a thickened gravy. Stews can contain other liquids than stock or both. Wine is common in stews. A handy guide to figuring out if what is in front of you is a soup or a stew is to ask yourself “can this be served on a plate?” If it can, it is almost certainly a stew. If it requires a bowl, it is probably a soup.

Pretty much every estofado recipe I have seen in Spain is a stew. Guiso is a more complicated thing. Many times a guiso in Spain is just a chunky soup, so it is not as simple a translation.


The following recipes for one-pot meals are available on the site:

  1. Wright, Clifford A. (2011). The Best Soups in the World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0544177796. "I use the terms 'broth' and 'stock' interchangeably, as do many people, although technically there is a very small difference—not important to the home cook....Some English-speaking writers make a distinction between broth and bouillon, but bouillon is simply the French word for broth."
  2. Líquido que resulta de cocer o aderezar algunos alimentos. – Real Academia Española, 2020, Diccionario de lengua española
  3. Academia de la Llingua Asturiana, 2015, Diccionariu de la Llingua Asturiana
  4. Davidson, Alan (2014). The Oxford Companion to Food (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 112. ISBN 9780191040726. "broth: a term which usually means the liquid in which meat has been cooked or a simple soup based thereon. It is a close equivalent to the French bouillon and the Italian brodo....It could be said that broth occupies an intermediate position between stock and soup. A broth...can be eaten as is, whereas a stock...would normally be consumed only as an ingredient in something more complex."
  5. López-Alt, J. Kenji. "How To Make Great Vegan Soups". Serious Eats. Retrieved November 29, 2016. "I don't really want to get into the muddy details of nomenclature between broth and stock...I use the words pretty much interchangeably, though I lean towards 'stock' if I mean something pretty rich that I'm gonna cook with and 'broth' if I mean something my noodles or peas are already floating in"
  6. Beard, James (2015). "A stock is a broth is a bouillon". The Armchair James Beard. Open Road Media. ISBN 9781504004558. "The other morning my old friend Helen McCully called me at an early hour and said, 'Now that you're revising your fish book, for heaven's sake, define the difference between a stock, a broth and a bouillon. No book does.' The reason no book does is that they are all the same thing. A stock, which is also a broth or a bouillon, is basically some meat, game, poultry, or fish simmered in water with bones, seasonings, and vegetables."
  7. Larousse, Firm, and Joël Rubochon. Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. Reprint, Revised, Clarkson Potter, 2009 - See the entries for Bouillon (Stock) pp 123 and Stock pp 1019
  8. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization. pp 111 M.E. Sharpe, 2013.
  9. Smith, Edward (1873). Foods. D. Appleton. and Stavely, Keith W. F.; Fitzgerald, Kathleen (2011). Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN: 978-1-55849-861-7.
  10. Fussell, Betty Harper. The Story of Corn. pp 184. UNM Press, 2004.
  11. Guiso caldoso que se prepara con legumbres y verduras o arroz al que en ocasiones se le añade trozos de algún tipo de carne o de embutido; es un plato típico de diversas regiones españolas, variando en cada una el tipo y cantidad de ingredientes. Oxford, 2020, Lexico Diccionario Español,