Your Guide to Making and Storing Soup, from Where to Keep It to When to Get Rid of It
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.
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.
How Long Can You Store Your Soup?
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. You might be surprised to know that some soups will keep almost one week in the fridge. Assuming that your refrigerator is kept at 40ºF 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.
Depending on the ingredients in your soup, a frozen batch can last you up to three months, assuming your freezer is the appropriate temperature. As with refrigerated soups, trust your gut after defrosting. If it seems questionable, you're better off tossing it.
Storing Soup Safely
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.
Soup is easy to reheat, whether on the stovetop or in the microwave. Defrosting should always happen in the refrigerator or else in the microwave, using the recommended times. Don't reheat a portion more than once—just take out what you will eat and keep the rest of it cold.
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 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.
The benefits of homemade soup are many: You control the ingredient list, using just what you like and leaving out what you don't; likewise you can use the ingredients you know are good for you. Of course, it's 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.