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September 13, 2011

How to freeze and reheat soup

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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.

How-to-freeze-soup-packing

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.

How-to-freeze-soup-labeling

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.

How-to-freeze-soup-frozen

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?

Comments

26
Posted by: Jon (bucklejo77@yahoo.com) | November 30, 2013 at 05:25 PM

I am a first time turkey stock/soup maker. I think I did a pretty good job of boiling/stewing my carcass and then got most of the bones out of the stock. Worked great. Then, I thought, hmmm, I don't have any containers, I'll just freeze the stock in the pot itself. Took it out this morning, and YUP, frozen solid. So, here's my question, can I put that pot directly onto a very low burner to thaw it? Or should I thaw it in the fridge? We didn't have much in the freezer at the time I put it in, so I'm not worried about risking the other food items.

27
Posted by: Jess | December 8, 2013 at 09:52 AM

Can you freeze broccoli cheese soup??

28
Posted by: Lydia (Soup Chick) | December 8, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Jess, it doesn't freeze very well.

29
Posted by: M-E | January 2, 2014 at 08:09 PM

Thank you! Very useful!

30
Posted by: Jane C | May 3, 2014 at 05:58 AM

Great info, due to timepoor I always prepared ahead big bowl of soup, mostly vegetable + pork bone or chicken soup, then pack and freeze it for daily dinner preparation. Averagely three times in a week, because my hubby and I love soup very much. Once finish in a week and I will prepare new soup for another week. However, some info says overnight vegetable soup may cause cancer and not good for health... this makes me bit worry and much appreciate if you can provide some great expertise advise. Million thanks :)

Jane

31
Posted by: Maya | July 14, 2014 at 06:13 PM

Whenever I make soup, I usually use a crockpot and always make an extra-big batch so I can freeze the leftovers.
My favorite method is something I read about in a 1950's magazine...I freeze the soup in a large metal bowl, and after it's frozen solid, let it thaw just enough so that it will pop out of the container, and then wrap the bowl-shaped soup block in tin foil & label it before freezing. This way takes up less space in the freezer and frees up my containers for other uses.
To re-heat, I just unwrap the soup block and put it in the crockpot, and after 4 hours or so on high, it's ready to eat!

32
Posted by: eileen | November 12, 2014 at 07:59 AM

I loved all those tips and the comments from the readers. Only just today starting on ziplocking my soups and the tips are a real help. Thank you so much

33
Posted by: Sandi Barr | January 10, 2015 at 08:09 PM

Hi, These comments are very helpful, thanks! I am a fairly new veggie gardener and am finding I have more squash, broccoli, zucchini than I can ever use, or even share! So it's soup time. The first soup I made was a butternut squash creamed soup. Simple and very tasty. I did freeze it ( I had about 10 quarts to freeze in Sept & Oct. I have defrosted 3 quarts so far and It has not separated at all. I used the quart canning jars because I already had them. So far so good. Now I am going to try some new ingredients and definitely will try some of the suggested methods of freezing. I do have a deep freezer so with the different methods of freezing I will have a greater variety to use and share.

34
Posted by: Nancy | January 27, 2015 at 08:44 AM

I made a large pot of ham and white bean soup last night and wanted to freeze some for later. Thanks for you freezing post, it was very helpful.

35
Posted by: Jennifer | February 13, 2015 at 09:38 PM

Awesome post! Can you explain what you mean by pressing the plastic wrap on the soup? Does it actually stay on top of the liquid while freezing? Or do you place it over the container before placing the lid on?

Thank you!

36
Posted by: Lydia | February 14, 2015 at 07:18 AM

Jennifer, press the plastic right on top of the soup. This helps keep the air out.

37
Posted by: Shaun Moorby | February 23, 2015 at 12:46 PM

How many days after making the soup is it still ok to freeze it? And how many days is it ok in the fridge! I am new to making homemade soup! Its a bean and rice soup with vegetables and chicken broth!

38
Posted by: Megan S. | September 1, 2015 at 03:21 PM

I make a broth based potato soup. It has both pureed and chunked potato in it. Would that be okay to freeze? My family aren't big fans of thick pasty soups so I worry it will thicken up to much. Would under cooking the potatos a bit be helpful in it's freezer ability?

39
Posted by: Helen K | September 1, 2015 at 10:53 PM

When you makes a soup you bring it to the boiling point, turn in down and simmer for a long time, overnight if you do it in a crock pot. Then you put many portions in the freezer and keep it there for a couple of weeks, say. Then we defrost it and reheat it to serve it.
At this point is there any nutrition left in that soup?
I keep thinking about this, I spend a lot of time, energy and money choosing good quality meats and organic veggies, but I'm wondering am I throwing it all away by the heating, freezing, thawing then reheating. Anybody familiar with this?

40
Posted by: Blanca | September 9, 2015 at 10:04 AM

Hi Lydia,

Thank you for the post, very helpful! Question, can I use foil or something else if I don't have plastic wrap on hand?

41
Posted by: Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) | November 29, 2015 at 06:58 AM

Blanca, don't use foil. Use a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid instead. Foil won't keep the air out, and air is what will make the soup spoil.

42
Posted by: Linda McCombe | December 26, 2015 at 06:49 PM

I froze some delicious turkey soup but my Dad is unable to figure out how to thaw it using the microwave. He has no booklet with the directions and has been chopping and cursing for over 45 minutes now. The once good soup is now a bucket of nothing but mush, and he is mad at me! I will never waste my soup again, freezing it. Bummer!

43
Posted by: Theresa Jarolim | January 6, 2016 at 07:45 PM

Thank you so much! This was a very useful.

44
Posted by: Laureen Howard | March 5, 2016 at 01:15 PM

This was such a big help! My daughter expecting her first child and asked if I could freeze some meals for her especially my vegetable soup and chicken soup. Wasn't sure about noodles and this answered all my questions! Thankyou so much!

45
Posted by: Jake Martens | March 9, 2016 at 10:46 AM

I can not find an answer to my question. How soon after cooling ,should the soup go into the freezer? Jake

46
Posted by: Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) | March 29, 2016 at 06:31 AM

Jake, right away, once the soup is completely cooled.

47
Posted by: Kristy Welch | April 20, 2016 at 11:13 AM

Tonight, I am making a broccoli cheese soup to bring to work tomorrow. Can I make the soup this evening, refrigerate it overnight, and reheat it slowly in a crock pot tomorrow? Or should I avoid the crockpot and just use the microwave? Our breakroom does not have a stove.

48
Posted by: Linda Forsythe | May 24, 2016 at 04:07 PM

I asked the question about freezing a dairy based soup. I am going to use the idea of adding a little more when reheating. This is because we have only two people in our home. My husband loves to makes soups. There is always too much so we freeze the left overs.

49
Posted by: Barbara Falci | January 15, 2017 at 06:07 PM

one tip for "labeling". We put a piece of scotch tape on the container and write on it with a sharpie. Easy!

50
Posted by: Kathleen | September 30, 2017 at 02:09 PM

Thanks for these tips! I haven't thought about freezing in muffin tins before for smaller serving sizes--great idea!

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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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