There’s nothing like homemade soups and stews to enjoy during the fall and winter months. Soups and stews are also great ‘prepare ahead’ foods to freeze and enjoy at a later time when a quick meal is needed, relieve stress during the holidays, or share with elderly parents, neighbors, or college students. While freezing is a great convenience, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Recipe. Freezing will not improve the texture, flavor, or quality of food. It simply preserves food quality by stopping microbial growth. Which brings us to the question, “will all soups freeze satisfactorily to assure a good product later?” Most soup recipes can be used for freezing but one should check the listing at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for ingredients that do not freeze successfully. Vegetable and meat based soups generally freeze very well; however, potatoes and pasta may need special consideration. Joy of Cooking advises to add freshly cooked potatoes or pasta just before serving if a soup or chowder calls for such OR to undercook the potatoes/pasta if they will be part of the frozen soup. Dairy-based soups and chowders can be frozen, too, but the outcome is not always as predictable as they tend to separate slightly when thawed and reheated. This can typically be fixed by whisking in a little additional milk or cream or by stabilizing the cream with a slurry of arrowroot or potato power and water. An immersion blender can be used to mix together a dairy-based soup that has separated. Using a modified starch suitable for low temperatures such as ThermFlow® or tapioca flour will help prevent separation of a thickened soup; Joy of Cooking suggests substituting 1 tablespoon tapioca flour for 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour for 1 cup liquid.
- Cooling. After preparing your soup, it must be cooled quickly to prevent a foodborne illness. Soup should cool from 140 degrees to 70 degrees in two hours or less and from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in four hours or less. The University of Minnesota (Cooling Soup Safely) offers some great tips to cool soup safely such as placing the kettle in an ice bath, using shallow pans, dividing into smaller batches, and stirring to hasten cooling. Regardless of method used, it’s most important to get the soup cooled by whatever method works best for you to get the temperature down as quickly as possible.
- Packaging. Once the soup is cooled, packaging appropriately becomes the next step. How you intend to use the soup later, will dictate how you will package it. If you want to freeze a large quantity, freezer bags with a zipper lock work very well and save space in your freezer because they are stackable after they have been laid flat and had time to freeze solid. For individual servings, smaller freezer bags can be used. Some of the plastic containers made by Ziplock® or Rubbermaid® work very well, too. These kind of containers come in all shapes and sizes, each with a unique ability to seal, lock, stack, nest and are sturdy enough to travel with ease which is especially good if the soup is to be transported to and used by an older adult or college student. ½ – 1 cup is considered a snack size portion and 2 cups is a meal portion.
- Freezing. Always remove as much air as possible as you close the bag or container and leave ½ inch of headspace for pint-size- and 1 inch for quart-size-containers. Clearly label each package with the name of the food, ingredients, packaging date, and any special instructions. This information can quickly be typed and printed on mailing labels and attached to the individual packages. Prepared packages or containers should be placed in the coldest part of the freezer allowing for good air circulation around each container. After the product is fully frozen, stack to save space. Soups containing starches or starchy vegetables should be placed in the back of the freezer where the temperature remains more constant to prevent slight thawing allowing starchy ingredients to absorb moisture and get mushy.
- Defrosting and Reheating. To retain the best flavor, dairy-based soups should be consumed within two months of freezing and broth-based within three months. Soups kept longer than these suggested times are still safe to eat but the flavor begins to fade along with some freezer burn. Soups should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight; or if it is defrosted in the microwave oven, it should be heated and eaten immediately. Pour the defrosted soup into a saucepan to reheat on the stove top; heat to boiling on low heat gently stirring until it heats through. Or pour soup into a microwave-safe dish to reheat in the microwave, again stirring occasionally to heat more evenly. If your recipe calls for the addition of cheese just before serving, omit that prior to freezing and add during reheating. Even though you can freeze cheese on its own, it reheats at a different rate than the soup contents.
I hope you’ll enjoy having homemade soup on hand for a quick meal or to share as much as I do.