Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock


To me, fish stock means two things: maximum flavor & maximum utilization. The truth is, there’s a lot of flavor hiding in a fish, even after those prime fillets have been removed. Plus, it’s satisfying to know you’ve made the most of your catch, from a culinary and moral standpoint. The process is pretty painless, and trust me, a good fish stock will take your seafood-based soups and stews to the next level.

, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
A healthy haul of perch, with a bonus cat. Photo: Dylan Taillie (@dylightful)

There are countless fish species suitable for stock-making. Generally, white-fleshed, mildly flavored fish are good candidates. On the contrary, oily and fatty fish, such as mackerel or herring, are best avoided. In this particular stock I’m using white perch, but please use whatever local, white-fleshed fish you can get your hands on. The outcome will be, more or less, the same – perhaps even better.

, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
This is a mackerel. Don’t use mackerel. Photo: Kirk Marks (@kirkymarks)

Lucky for us, fish release flavor from their bones, marrow, cartilage, and connective tissue pretty quickly. While a venison stock may take six hours or more, a fish stock can be whipped up in under an hour. Due to the short cook time, fish stocks should be cooked at a slightly higher temperature than meat stocks – somewhere between a simmer and a light boil. I’d advise letting your fish carcasses go for about 45 minutes; anything longer than that is unnecessary and could result in a bitter flavor. Also, due to the short cook time, vegetables should be sliced fairly thin. The increase in surface area will aid in maximizing flavor extraction.

, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
Perch on the mind. Photo: Dylan Taillie (@dylightful)

Processing Fish for Stock:

, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
Photo: Kirk Marks (@kirkymarks)

Remove the fillets, guts, and gills from the fish. If the gills are left attached they can contribute a bitter flavor. If you’re using a large fish, chop the carcass into manageable-sized pieces. Rinse the carcass under fresh water to remove slime and blood, then proceed to the recipe.

Until next time, enjoy, and good luck out there!

, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
Stock prep. Photo: Kirk Marks (@kirkymarks)

Fish Stock Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • ~ 64 ounces water
  • 0.5 cup dry white wine
  • 2 pounds fish carcasses (fillets, guts, and gills removed)
  • 3 celery ribs, sliced thin
  • 1 large white onion, sliced thin
  • 2 carrots, sliced thin
  • 2 leeks, sliced thin
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Stems from 0.5 bunch of parsley
  • 2 lemon slices
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt or sea salt, to taste
, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
The finished product! Photo: Kirk Marks (@kirkymarks)

Method:

  • Fill stock pot with water and white wine. Place over a burner set to medium-high heat.
  • Add fish carcasses to the pot. If not totally covered, add more water until completely submerged.
  • Add celery, onion, carrot, and leeks to the pot. Bring water somewhere between a simmer and a light boil. Skim foam from the surface.
  • Add garlic, bay leaves, parsley stems, lemon slices, and peppercorns. Simmer for 45 minutes. If a significant volume has evaporated, add more water to compensate.
  • Salt to taste.
  • Remove from burner, let cool until warm. Strain through a colander a couple of times, then line the colander with paper towels and strain once more.
  • Transfer to containers for freezing or canning. If freezing, allow headspace for expansion.
, Flavor on the Fly: The Ultimate Fish Stock, Salmon Club Iceland
Sunset over a Chesapeake Bay tributary. Photo: Dylan Taillie (@dylightful)

Article by Flylords Food Editor Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks. 

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