How to Make Fish Stock

4.86 from 42 votes
Jump to Recipe

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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


  • 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


  • 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.



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.


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!

You May Also Like

Red Pesto with Pasta

A simple recipe for red pesto, inspired by a similar pesto from Trapani in Sicily. It’s is a sun dried tomato pesto with roasted red peppers.

Mexican Mixiotes

Mixiotes are Mexico’s version of foods cooked in parchment. It’s an ancient, versatile way to cook. Here’s a recipe and some tips and tricks to make them at home.

Venison Enchiladas

Classic venison enchiladas are easy to make, delicious and make for fantastic leftovers. What’s more, you have plenty of filling options.

Garlic Roasted Mushrooms

This is a simple garlic roasted mushroom recipe that works with any meaty mushroom, from porcini to shiitake to regular button mushrooms.

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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating


  1. What about the bloodline? I always trim it out and either use it in my garden as fertilizer or throw it back into the water to feed the crawfish. If I’ve gone to the trouble of bringing it home it would be nice to have an edible use for it, but the fishy flavor is pretty strong. Any recommendations?

    1. Grayson: I leave it in. If the fish is very fresh, it’s not a problem. Besides, you generally make fish stock from lean, white fish, which have a pretty narrow bloodline. I would not make stock from a fish with a big one, like shad or mackerel or tuna. And if I had to, I would remove the bloodline.

  2. The fragrance of the stock was amazing and it was used to make a seafood bisque. Clam chowder will be next. I used Alaskan sockeye salmon tails.

  3. Awesome fish stock, Hank! Used fresh fish from the Cancun market (caught in the morning, fresh as can be) added some fresh blue crabs. So fresh it did not even smell like fish! Made sure it didn’t come to a boil. Strained it 3 times using cheesecloth. The color was still murky.

    That’s okay for a cream soup or chowder. But as a perfectionist, I opted to make a consomme using the egg white raft. Wow! It worked perfectly. Clear as a bell. Beautiful amber color. Reducing it slowly now to 50%.

    So thrilled with the results. Thank you for such a simple yet potent fish stock recipe. Always been afraid to try it. Not anymore.

    1. Making fish stock helps me feel like I get more mileage out of the small bluegill and perch I catch out of the local ponds (beyond their delicious and tiny filets). I’ve been more than pleased with the results from following this recipe.

  4. Hank, two questions. 1) Catfish? 2) Can you freeze the bones and heads then make stock later?

    You’re one of only two go-to sites for us for wild game recipes. Love ya!

    1. Joann: Yep, you can skip them. No need for a substitute, but if you wanted to, one or two star anise pods, or a tablespoon of anise seeds would do.

  5. I’m a reasonable ‘chef’, (in my 60s) I have always thought: Meat stock 10 hours plus; Fish stock 10 mins. Am I wrong? Does fish stock improve cooked around 45 mins?

    1. Kevin: Yes, that is too short a time for fish stock. You will normally see anything from 30 minutes to an hour.

    1. Andrea: It’s big, but that doesn’t really matter. Cover your ingredients by no more than about an inch or so, as this is not a long simmered stock.

  6. This is truly delicious. It is amazing how much more fishy the stock is if you make the mistake of letting it boil. Two questions though. First, can you reduce the stock to thicken it by continuing to simmer it after removing the solids, or could you even boil it then? And two, how do you ensure killing off any bacteria left over from the cleaning process (even after thorough rinses) if the stock never boils?

    1. Nick: Don’t reduce it. It gets fishy. And bacteria etc all die at 140F, which is well below the simmer.

  7. Thanks Hank, caught a beautiful bass in the English Channel last night and this recipe is perfect for the bones. I’m waiting not very patiently to try it!

  8. Hank! Lovely recipe! I used Chinook salmon and I love the flavor profile! Delicious! Thank you for an awesome website for me to add to my reference library!

  9. I improvised. We made herb crusted Ahi the other night, and refused to let my husband clean the pan. Too much good fond in the pan. I used it as my base for the veggies. I didn’t have seaweed on hand and didn’t feel like snorkeling to get some. Oh, and I used wild caught lump fish instead of heads and such. Turned out delicious, and you can bet .I’ll be making seafood chowder this weekend ! Nancy

  10. Hank,
    Would you include the skins and fins?
    Or just stick to bones and heads?
    Is it ok if there’s some meat clinging to the bones?

    1. Tom: Yes on all counts. Skin and fins add some collagen to the stock. And yes, it’s good to have a little meat on those bones!

  11. Very interesting Hank! When browsing my local used bookstore, I judge a seafood cookbook by its recipes for seafood chowder and fish stock, which had better be an ingredient in the chowder! But your recipe is definitely NOT what I typically expect to see. Make miso much? Glad to see you warn against the boil 😉 The fennel surprised me the most, though also the absence of black peppercorns. But judging from your other recipes, this is going to have to be made and tried (though with free head-on flounder bones from my local fishmonger). Thanks for sharing!


  12. Hank,
    You just explained why my salmon stock turned out the way it did. Oh well.. live and learn.
    (it was still edible)

  13. Hank,
    I’ve been really loving how good fish (and vegetable) stock comes out cooked sous vide packed in a FoodSaver bag. Have you tried this method? The stock comes out highly flavorful, clear and clean.

    Question, many claim that the eyes need to be removed from fish as well before making stock.I have been doing that but really hate doing it. I’m thinking you do not think this is something I should worry about. Right?