How to Make Fish Stock

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finished fish stock with a fennel frond
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I catch a lot of striped bass, and while I love to eat the fillets, I am always more excited about the heads and bones because they make a surpassing fish stock. And to me, fish stock is one of those zephyrs of the food world, a mystical wonderment that lasts only as long as it takes to make and eat it.

Yes, you can store fish stock, and it’s OK, but never as amazing as when it has been freshly made.

So that means I normally find myself making fish risotto or chowder right off the bat when I have a good haul of stripers, Pacific rockfish or lingcod. The fillets get eaten later. Yes, I am aware this is opposite to what most people do. Pretty typical for me.

Fish stock isn’t like normal stock. It’s a fairly quick affair. My venison stock takes all day, or even overnight. All my fish stock asks of you is 45 minutes or so. Strain and enjoy. A long-simmered fish stock gets cloudy and bitter and fishy. I don’t recommend it.

Fish bones for fish stock
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What fish? Really almost anything. I’ve made fish stock with bass, walleye, perch, black seabass, white seabass, lingcod, Pacific rock cod, stripers, tilefish, porgies, redfish, sea trout, spotted bass, bluegills… you get the point.

Be sure to rinse the heads and bones well to remove slime, and be absolutely certain to snip our the gills. Gills in your stock will ruin it, as the blood in them will cloud your stock and give it an “off” flavor very quickly.

Straining the fish stock
4.86 from 42 votes

Homemade Fish Stock

You can make fish stock out of any fish or shellfish, although my fish stock recipe is considerably different from the stock I make with crabs and lobsters. For the most part, you want white, lean fish here. While I've made stock with trout and salmon, it's oily and strongly flavored and really only good as a base for salmon chowder or somesuch. I've never heard of anyone making stock with mackerel, tuna or bluefish, so I'd avoid it.
Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 32 1 cup servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, chopped (optional)
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • Salt
  • 2 cups white wine or vermouth
  • 2 to 5 pounds of fish bones and heads
  • A handful of dried mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 to 4 bay leaves
  • 1 star anise pod (optional)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons dried or fresh thyme
  • 3 or 4 pieces of dried kombu kelp (optional)
  • Chopped fronds from the fennel bulb

Instructions 

  • Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped vegetables and cook, stirring often, until they are all soft, but not browned. This should take about 10 minutes or so.
  • Add the white wine and all the remaining ingredients, plus enough water to cover everything by about an inch or two. Bring to a simmer, then drop the heat to a bare shimmy, about 175°F if you want to be precise. It should not boil under any circumstances, and keep an eye on things to ensure that it doesn't. Simmer like this for 45 minutes to 1 hour, no more.
  • Turn the heat as low as it will go. Set a fine mesh strainer over a big bowl, then put a piece of paper towel or cheesecloth in the strainer. Ladle the stock through this set-up into the bowl. When you get to the bottom, skip the dregs down there, as they will be filled with sediment. The stock will never be as good as it is right now, but it can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for up to 6 months.

Video

Notes

NOTE: You'll notice that my stock differs from others in that I use mushrooms and dried kombu kelp, which is a sort of seaweed. Dried mushrooms are easily available in most supermarkets, but you'll need to go to an Asian market for the kelp. You can skip it if you want.

Nutrition

Calories: 29kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 9mg | Potassium: 62mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 345IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 8mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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83 Comments

  1. Oh no! I made the mistake of leaving it on a higher temp than recommended. Why is it so important to keep it on a low boil the entire time? Thanks!!

    1. Hannah: Because it will get cloudy, chalky and fishy. If you just barely let it simmer, steep really, the flavors are cleaner and so is your stock.

    1. Monika: It is correct. That’s 2 gallons of stock. You can go with 1 gallon if you want, for a stronger stock.

  2. Hi Hank I thought I had followed everything to a T but my stock has no flavor other than anise I can’t taste the fish I ended up with 3 1/4 qts stock and see your recipe was for 1 qt I used 2 1/4 lbs bones grad etc and thought I had used the right amount of water to just cover the bones but clearly I must have used too much I was going to start over -sauté carrots celery and onion and add few lbs of bones I still have in the freezer and add some of the stock I just made instead of water as well as wine but my concern is that this would be considered boiling my previous weak stock too long Suggestions?

    1. Josie: Nope, you can use the weak stock as a base for the new one. These stocks should only require 45 minutes or so to get flavorful.