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September 13, 2011

How to freeze and reheat soup


A couple of weeks ago, Steve, a Soup Chick reader, wrote to tell me he's planning a soup-and-sandwich fundraiser in the Fall, and he wants to make some soups ahead and freeze them. Though I've marked many of the soups on Soup Chick as make ahead and freeze recipes, he requested more detailed information about how to freeze soup. Steve, thanks for asking.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, almost any food can be frozen. Almost any soup can be frozen, too, though some will lose a bit of texture in the process. When it comes to soup, that's not always terribly important, as most soups already have a kind of slip-slidey quality, and you can perk up a frozen soup by adding a few fresh ingredients (vegetables, pasta, cream) before you serve.

  • When making a vegetable soup to freeze, undercook your vegetables a bit. If they're still crunchy when the soup goes into the freezer, they'll have better texture when defrosted. Potatoes can become a bit mealy, but soups with pureed potatoes freeze well.
  • If your recipe calls for the addition of fresh tender herbs, such as basil or parsley, omit those prior to freezing, and add them when you reheat. More hearty herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage) often are added early in the cooking process, and they'll stand up to the freezer without losing their zing.
  • Bean soups love the freezer.
  • Brown rice and wild rice take to freezing a bit better than white or converted rice, though all rice will soften as it thaws.
  • Pasta can get somewhat mushy, so either undercook it in the soup, or add pasta after you defrost and reheat.
  • If your soup contains shellfish, you should make the soup base (without the fish) and freeze that. When you're ready to serve, thaw and reheat the base, and add fresh shellfish, which will take just minutes to cook.
  • I don't know who started the rumor that you can't freeze cream-based soups. You can, but there are a few tricks to it. (See below.) Sometimes soups with a milk or cream base will separate during the freezing process, but you can whisk them back to health with a bit of fresh cream or an arrowroot slurry (arrowroot mixed with water). So, go ahead and make (and freeze) that in-season corn chowder.
  • If your recipe calls for the addition of cheese just before serving, omit that prior to freezing, and add it during the reheating. Even though you can freeze cheese on its own, it will reheat at a different speed than the soup contents around it.

Rule of thumb: If you can freeze the components, you probably can freeze the soup.

Step One: The Big Chill

Before you can freeze your soup, you need to chill (the soup, not you). Never put hot food directly into the freezer; you'll riase the temperature of the freezer and endanger the safety of the food in it.

Remove the pot from heat. Let the soup sit for 20-30 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally to release more heat from the soup. When the soup has reached room temperature, it's ready to be packed.

If you're in a super hurry, you can set the pot of slightly cooled soup into a larger pot (or the kitchen sink) in a few inches of ice water (water with ice cubes). Don't put your pot directly from the stove into ice water, because even the toughest pot might crack from thermal shock. Once the contents are somewhat cooled, an ice water bath can speed the process.

If you live in a cold climate like New England, let Mother Nature help you cool your soup in the winter. I like to let the soup cool for 20-30 minutes in the kitchen; then, I set the entire pot outside on my porch to cool for another 30 minutes in the frigid air.


Step Two: Pack It In

After the soup is chilled to room temperature or below, transfer the soup into containers. What type of containers work best? Some people like to use Ziploc® heavy freezer bags, which take up less space in the freezer. I prefer sturdy food storage containers with tight-fitting lids, to minimize leaks and prevent the transference of any other smells from the freezer.

Be sure to leave at least half an inch of extra space in the container to allow the liquid to expand as it freezes. If you use bags, squeeze out as much air as possible, but don't overfill the bags. Remember to leave a bit of expansion space.

To prevent freezer burn, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the soup before you put the cover on the container.

Another favorite way to freeze soup is by portioning it into silicone muffin pans. When the soup freezes, squeeze the "muffins" into ziploc bags. [When you want a bowl of soup pop one or two of the frozen soup muffins into a bowl and reheat.]

If you're making a cream-based soup, pour off most of the liquid, and freeze the solid portion of the soup. When you reheat, add fresh cream or milk.

Please do not freeze soup in containers that are not specifically marked food-safe or freezer-safe.


Step Three: Deep Freeze

Once the soup is chilled and packed, label it with a marker or a paper label. Note the type of soup and the date.

To freeze soup in bags, set the bags on a cookie sheet and freeze in a single layer. When the soups are frozen solid, you can stack them in your freezer. Although I know many people who prefer this method, I've had a few unfortunate leakage episodes, so I prefer the containers.


Step Four: Heat and Eat

Note the dates on the soup containers in your freezer, and try to use your soups within 3 months (though many non-cream soups will keep as long as 6 months).

There are a few ways to defrost your soup. The best, and safest, is to let the container sit in the refrigerator overnight.

If the soup does not have a cream base, you can defrost in the microwave. My microwave has a defrost setting, though I seldom use it. Instead, I heat on medium, a minute or two at a time, until the soup is uniformly thawed; then, I heat on high to serving temperature.

To resuscitate a cream-based soup that has separated, first thaw the soup in the refrigerator overnight. If it's a pureed soup, toss it into the blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. Then, transfer the soup to a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot, and heat gently on the stovetop.

If it's a soup with solids (chicken, vegetables, etc.), and you have frozen the solids separately, spoon the thawed solids into a heavy Dutch oven or stock pot. Add fresh cream or milk or broth, and whisk together.

Soups that have been frozen might lose a bit of texture, but they won't lose flavor.

Do you have any additional tips for freezing and reheating soup? What soups do you make ahead and freeze?


Posted by: Alanna | September 13, 2011 at 11:37 AM

What a totally useful post, Lydia! FYI I don't add milk/cream to soups that are going to freeze not because of the separation issue but because of the VOLUME issue. Plus I find that after warming, the soups taste fresher when the dairy products are added just before serving.

Posted by: CJMcD | September 13, 2011 at 11:38 AM

For long-term storage in our deep freezer, I always press plastic wrap onto the surface of the soup to the edges of the container before putting the cover on. Doing so prevents any frost or freezer burn from forming on the top of the frozen soup. I've done it for years with soups, sauces, even compound butters and it works like a charm. No funky freezer burn flavor, ever.

Posted by: janet @ the taste space | September 13, 2011 at 05:42 PM

What a wonderful resource. I love having the chopped herbs in my soups but it sucks I can't freeze them right into the soup. :(

Posted by: Lydia | September 14, 2011 at 08:59 AM

Alanna, CJ: Thanks for adding your tips. I'm going to incorporate all of them into the post.

Janet, only the hardy herbs should be cooked into soup to be frozen. It's always best to add fresh herbs right before you serve. (Of course, you can add them before freezing, but they just won't be very robust when you reheat the soup.)

Posted by: Jeanette | September 14, 2011 at 10:16 PM

Great tips! I freeze soups a lot, as well as beans and grains separately so I can stir them into soups later. I have noticed that the bean soups break down some after frozen, but I don't mind since I like them creamy.

Posted by: Lydia | September 15, 2011 at 10:35 AM

Jeanette, I agree. I actually prefer bean soups when the beans collapse into the soup.

Posted by: CJMcD | September 15, 2011 at 07:46 PM

Lydia- You're welcome! I love your blog and the knowledge you share. We learn from each other. Happy to share mine experience as well. The food world is a better place for all the input.

Posted by: Kathy - Panini Happy | September 18, 2011 at 01:38 PM

These are some excellent tips, Lydia!

Posted by: max blumen | July 20, 2012 at 05:04 PM

Yeah I agree. keep the cream or milk out when making your soup to be frozen. I live on budget so cream is a luxury. save money when you don't have to add extra cream to bring it back. love the idea about muffin cups. little one bowl or cup portions. I put the indiviuals in the sandwich bags that just fold over and put all those in a gallon bag.

Posted by: kelly | August 23, 2012 at 11:10 AM

I am looking at making about 50 lbs of lentil soup for a large event in late Sept. Do you think it will be alright to freeze batches a little at a time? I have had good luck with bean soups but have never tried lentils.They seem more delicate. Suggestions would be helpful.

Posted by: Lydia | August 23, 2012 at 11:20 AM

Kelly, it will be fine, as long as you have enough freezer space!

Posted by: Kim Kelly | September 18, 2012 at 01:27 PM

Great info!! I LOVE soup, and freeze quite a bit of it in my Tupperware Freezer Mates. A quick tip for freezing tender herbs....freeze them in an ice cube tray with olive oil in it. They will stay fresh, tender, GREEN and add a healthy fat to your soup or stew when reheating. For those of you concerned about our planet, I will give a shameless plug for Tupperware which has a lifetime guarantee and won't be filling up landfills for the next 100 years like disposable products do.

Posted by: Liz | October 28, 2012 at 06:46 PM

Does the plastic wrap stick to the soup when you microwave it?

Posted by: Lydia (Soup Chick) | October 28, 2012 at 06:49 PM

Liz, no, it doesn't.

Posted by: Panida | December 5, 2012 at 01:55 PM

Wow, this has been one of the most helpful article. Would you consider freezing coconut milk? Is this considered heavy cream or milk and should not be frozen? I want to make a Thai soup that requires coconut milk and want to make a ton of it and freeze it. Thanks for this wonderful article.

Posted by: PB | January 13, 2013 at 06:07 AM

Another favorite way to freeze soup is by portioning it into silicone muffin pans. When the soup freezes, squeeze the "muffins" into ziploc bags.

Posted by: Elizabeth | January 23, 2013 at 03:56 PM

In order not to buy a ton of the ziploc containers, and to save room in the freezer, I freeze a batch in the ziploc containers (square, if possible), un-mold, wrap in plastic wrap, then in ziploc bags. It makes a stackable solution that takes up less freezer space, and then I use the same containers for the next batch.

Posted by: Jaci | March 12, 2013 at 08:45 PM

I'm making a potato and carrot and butternut squash soup that cooks in the crockpot and calls for honey....mainly to get rid of excess potatoes and carrots from our organic food share....... Im hoping I can freeze this...thoughts?

Posted by: Lydia (Soup Chick) | March 13, 2013 at 07:01 AM

Jaci, you can freeze the soup, though potatoes don't freeze particularly well. Best thing is to puree the soup, that way the texture will not be an issue when you defrost it.

Posted by: Valentina | March 20, 2013 at 04:43 PM

Thanks for the tips. I make an assortment of soups, freeze them in quarts and give to my older realtives who don't cook anymore for Christmas. They love that they get them frozen and can take them out when they want!

Posted by: Laurie | April 1, 2013 at 07:31 PM

Have you tried canning the soups instead of freezing them?

Posted by: Leigh | April 25, 2013 at 07:52 PM

I freeze my soup in the bowls I'll serve it in. I portion out my soup into 6-8 bowls and when solid, I dip the bowls into a little hot water, slip them out of the bowls and slide each bowl-shaped soup "cube" into ziplok bags for storage.
I keep the same bowl at work, so I take my frozen soup in the bag, slip it into the bowl and let it sit in the fridge til lunch time. It's ready to reheat in the microwave.

Posted by: Brian Lanza | July 8, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Thank you, Soup Chick.

Posted by: Anne | October 13, 2013 at 08:43 PM

This is a great useful post. I have never frozen sop before so this is exactly what I needed! Thanks a bunch!

Posted by: Cathy Blumenfeld | November 25, 2013 at 02:06 PM

Thank you, Thank You, Thank You! I made a chestnut and sherry soup for Thanksgiving a few days ahead, since the recipe stated it could be made ahead, and though I was uneasy, I didn't realize I had no idea what I was doing until the base of the soup was done. Between the sherry, chestnuts, and truffles that will go into the garnish, this is one expensive soup I don't want to ruin!

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  • I'm Lydia Walshin, a longtime food writer who lives and cooks in a real log house. If I could, I'd eat Chinese noodles, grapes, ice cream and soup every day.
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