There are few things more reassuring than knowing you’ve got homemade soup waiting for you at home on a cold winter day. Making soup can be somewhat meditative; assembling and chopping the ingredients, then standing over the pot while the onions soften in butter or the spices sizzle and bloom in oil. Once the liquid (stock or water) has been added and the cooking is underway, you can step aside and go about your other business, but the delicious aromas of the meal you’ve been preparing will begin wafting throughout the house.
Why Homemade Is Best
The benefits of homemade soup are many: You control the ingredient list, using just what you like and leaving out what you don’t, and you can use ingredients you know are good for you. Of course, it’s also more economical than buying pre-made soup. And just think how satisfied you’ll feel once you’ve eaten your bowlful and put some away in the refrigerator for later in the week, or the freezer for a day, further down the road, when you need a little bit of extra comfort.
Whether you’re making stock from scratch or using store-bought (of course, we’d vote in favor of homemade stock any day), it’s well worth the effort to make your own soup, and just getting into the kitchen and preparing it might make you feel good. Portions for one, two, or many can be put away in the fridge or freezer for a rainy day. The trick is knowing how to pack it away for reheating in the most efficient and safe way.
You might be surprised to know that some soups will keep almost one week in the fridge. Assuming that your refrigerator is kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the storage length really depends on two things: what’s in the soup, and how efficiently it was cooled down. Many recipes will give you a conservative length of time for storage, so the best thing to do is learn to trust your nose and taste buds, and always be on alert for funky smells and sourness.
In the refrigerator
A general rule of thumb is that soup can be stored in the refrigerator for about three days, but you should always taste your dish before deciding to reheat. A clear, vegetable-based soup with some acidity, such as tomatoes, may last longer. Chicken soup usually lasts three to five days. Creamy soups will most likely last three days, and seafood soup two or three days.
In the freezer
Depending on the ingredients in your soup, a frozen batch can last you up to three months, assuming your freezer is the appropriate temperature, 0 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, according to the USDA. As with refrigerated soups, trust your gut after defrosting. If the soup seems questionable, you’re better off tossing it.
Cooling and Preparing Soup for Storage
The key to cooling and reheating foods safely is speed. This is easier to achieve when working with small amounts. The larger the vat of soup, the longer it takes to cool down—and therein lies the risk of spoilage.
Professional kitchens use an ice bath: Place a container of soup in a larger container and fill it with ice water to come up to the same level as the soup. Stir from time to time as it cools to speed things up. Once it is at room temperature the soup can be divided, covered, and refrigerated or frozen. Don’t cover it until then, that would only slow down the cooling time.
Freezing and Defrosting Soup
Not all types of soup should be frozen. Those made with cream or milk, such as chowders and bisques, separate and become grainy if frozen. If you want to freeze a soup that contains pasta, rice, or other grains, wait to add these ingredients until you reheat and serve the soup, otherwise the texture of the pasta and rice will become mushy with freezing and thawing.
Be sure not to overfill the container as the soup will expand as it freezes. Leave about an inch of space between the soup and the top of the container. And always label! That way you’ll know which is the soup you want to defrost rather than trying to guess between two similar looking pots in the freezer.
Defrosting should always happen in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Remember that a large pot of soup might take longer than overnight to defrost in the refrigerator. Never defrost soup by leaving it on the counter. Also, don’t reheat a portion more than once—just take out what you will eat and keep the rest of it cold.
Soup is easy to reheat, whether on the stovetop or in the microwave. A handy rule to remember is that if you are reheating a chicken or meat broth or clear soup, bring it to a boil for three minutes to be sure of killing off any possible harmful bacterial growth. Soups are, in a way, the most flexible of foods when it comes to storage and reuse because they can be brought to a boil without risk of scorching. This is harder to do with soups that are thickened with flour or cream, or those that are mainly seafood; they might over-reduce, becoming too salty, thick, or cloudy. As long as you trust that the soup doesn’t smell or taste “off” when you take it out of the refrigerator, bring it just to a boil and then lower the heat and stir as it simmers gently for three more minutes.