Monday, February 12, 2007

Technique of the Week: How to make fish stock

I have a confession to make -- I hate making stocks. When a recipe calls for chicken, beef, or veal stock, I open a can or a box. Unless of course, the stock is the star of the show and I am making chicken soup or tortellini in broth. Yes, yes -- I know that it's not hard. It's just boring and annoying. All that simmering, chilling, and degreasing, does not give me a sense of satisfaction. In fact, I usually feel bad afterwards because I have to throw away so much chicken. No matter how hard I try, I just can't like boiled chicken and can't find any creative uses for it.

There is, however, one exception to my stock apathy. I love to make fish stock. It's not just because I love fish soups, but because making fish stock is so fast and easy. It only has to simmer for 40 minutes and requires no degreasing because fish is so much leaner than chicken or beef. Most fishmongers will sell you fish heads and bones relatively cheaply. My favorite fish to use for stock are branzino, sea bream, red snapper, and any other small, white or beige-fleshed fish. I tend to avoid making stock out of pink or brown-fleshed fish because it comes out too strong. If you get frames from large fish like cod, ask your fishmonger to hack them up for you so that you can easily fit them into your pot. It's a pain in the butt to do that at home.

If I am in the mood for a fish soup, I ask Carl at the New Deal Fish Market to fillet a few little fish for me and to pack the fillets separately from heads and bones. This makes it really easy to plop the heads and bones into the pot to make stock and then throw in the fillets after the stock is done and strained. Fish stock is also a great thing to have in your freezer, so I often make more than I need and freeze some in large freezer bags.

Students often ask me if it stinks up the house. Not that I can tell. Unless you cook it for hours, it's really quite innocent.

Fish substitutions: branzino, sea bream, red snapper, stripped bass, cod, haddock, hake, sole, flounder, pollock, halibut, grouper, or pretty much any light colored fish (I mean the flesh color).

Fish prep: If you tell the fishmonger that you need bones and heads for stock, he should know what to do, but just in case tell him that you want the gills and guts removed.

For 6 cups of stock

1 Lb fish heads and bones, rinsed
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups water
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled
1 celery rib
6 parsley stems without leaves
6 thyme sprigs or 3 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
  1. In a large stock pot, combine fish heads and bones, wine, water, carrot, onion and celery. Cover and bring to a boil.
  2. Turn down the heat to medium, uncover, and simmer 20 minutes skimming the foam that rises to the top.
  3. When the foam stops rising, add parsley stems and thyme sprigs, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Simmer gently uncovered 20 more minutes. Take off heat. Strain in a colander pressing hard on the solids. Let sit for 10 minutes so that any impurities settle on the bottom of the bowl. Don't stir the stock before using, and you'll have no trouble leaving the impurities in the bowl with the last 1/3 cup or so of the stock.
To freeze stock: Pour stock into containers, or set a large freezer bag in a clean bowl and pour in the stock. Seal the bag and put it in the freezer with the bowl until the stock is solid. After that you can remove the bowl. Stock will keep in the freezer for up to 4 months. When defrosting the stock in a freezer bag, put it in a bowl or saucepan just in case it leaks.

P.S. The picture above is of Uha (a Russian fish soup). That's about the easiest thing you can do with your fish stock. I'll write up a recipe for it soon.


Anonymous said...

I'm not much of a stock maker either, but my wife often makes chicken stock. When she does, she includes a parsnip to give it a little extra depth and tang. Don't know how that would work with your fish stock.

I might have to make your fish stock just to finally make use of parsley stems!

Helen said...

Hi Terry,

You can always try to put parsnip in fish stock. It's not like there are any stock rules :)


Toni said...

First time visiting your blog. Love it!!! Amazing how many people steer clear of fish, thinking it takes some mysterious genetic fluke (pun intended) in order to cook it. Or sometimes even to eat it! I adore fish in all forms, and appreciate your recipe for fish stock. Parsnips - sure, why not? As Helen said, there aren't any rules for stock. Historically, it was just a way of using kitchen scraps and sqeezing every last possible drop of nutrients out of them.


Anonymous said...

Great, thanks!

The Pragmatic Gardener said...

Delighted to find this blog! Received 2 huge salmon carcasses free (with much flesh upon same) and was looking for something to do with them. Big fish fan myself. Tossed in a 1/4 anise bulb just because. This will make monster chowder! Thank you.

Tom said...

I have seen recent conflicting recipes for fish stock. Some say to use the fish heads and gills and some say DO NOT use heads and gills. I am making etouffee and Paul Prudhomme's recipe for stocks says DO NOT use heads and gills. Can you tell me why?


Helen said...

Definitely use heads, but NOT the gills. The gills give the stock a bitter flavor. The heads is where all the good gelatin is to give you a nice rich stock.

Talent said...

Hi Chef, I made fish stock yesterday from 3 Red Snapper carcases including the gills, just the fillets had been removed. All I added was water, salt and pepper. Boiled, strained and reduced. No bitter taste to the liquid. When set the jelly was put into 100g Bicarb containers for the freezer. Quick and simple fish stock.

Anonymous said...

Why don't u try to make chicken salad with homemade mayonnaise and chopped up veggies, or quesadillas, also chicken soup with chopped chicken meat, instead of throwing the meat, it's great.

Anonymous said...

i make chicken stalk every 3 weeks or so and freeze it.This is greeeeat soup,first i roast the chicken breast side down heavly seasoned including cavity. I roast 400 for about 1 hr and 15 - 25 mn. Cool chicken strip meat put in fridge. fill my pot half way with filtered water and add bones and skin cover and slow simmer as long as possible. I go 2 days sometimes. I strain this,add stock back to pot with some boxed stock as well. I roast my veggies (carrots,onions,garlic,yams etc)add some canned beans and some baked beans Better than broth (instead of salt) cause its salty. People love my soup and my house smells good. i add chicken in the end so it dosent get "stringy"

Maurice said...

Yes you can get a bitter taste in fish stock. I find that if you have rapidly boiling water over a good heat then add the fish head and spine and cook for 10 minutes then leave to cool - remove all bones and leave any cooked flesh cook without lid until the stock has desirable flavor then salt to taste. Strain out solids and reduce to a quarter or less and freeze. I reduce heavily and pour into ice cube tray so that one cube makes a cup of stock - I make a big heap every six months


Harry the Hobo Widdifield said...

hey ... great blog. Thanks for the help!

J. said...

You rock! I wanted to do something with the remains of 3 red snappers I had fillet'd at an asian supermarket in South Boston (the fishmonger had the gall to ask me if I wanted the rest of the fish... woof.) and your blog entry saved the day. It is cooking the first 20 min cycle and hotdamnitsmellsgood! Thank you! :)

Miracle said...

You don't have to waste all of your chicken. Just put the raw chicken in the crockpot breast side down, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for 6-8 hours. When it is done, the meat is tender, juicy, and delicious. Then pick off most of the meat and put the bones back in the crock with water and seasonings to make broth. Hope that helps!

Honey said...

You mentioned you didn't know what to do with boiled chicken...check out Wardeh's blog for great and complete use of everything. I've been a vegetarian for 6 years and a vegan for 10 and I've started eating chicken and fish as we became allergic to soy. Boiled chicken IS nasty (I did a crockpot chicken) but she has great recipes everyone is raving over.

Tomorrow I'm making fish stock! My first stock ever...well...I've made veggie stock but there's something different about fishing (hehe)bones outta the stock!


Anonymous said...

Made fish stock tonight with left over salmon head, tail, spine. Worked out pretty nicely. Thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said... the comments.I have listened to master chefs and they say..1 NEVER boil a fish stock more than 20 minutes. 2.don't use an oily fish like can google for reasons or just trust me

Gdaiva said...

After spending 3 days in your blog (thats when i discovered it) I learned a lot, even though many foods i cook the same way there is always something new to learn, and the way your write is soo beautiful, i soo want to meet you :) ! Hopefully some day i'll make it to Boston and come to one of your classes!