Stock making with bones part three: fish

Fish stock was a relatively recent discovery for me, which came about in a way you might not expect. I had always thought of fish heads and bones as waste, something you could toss to the cat (outdoors), which my sisters and I routinely did with the heads of the small bluegills that we caught as children. The cats loved this, but I never understood what they got out of it. Until one evening in a fish restaurant with my Spanish sister-in-law. We had splurged and ordered a whole fish for four of us, and she asked if she could have the head for her portion. I was not the only one who was bemused by the request, but watching her eat it, and seeing how much flesh there actually was on the head, I rapidly understood. I felt anguish for all the times I’d heedlessly disposed of fish heads, and vowed to change my ways.

My adventures with fish stock began by treating the bones of a whole grilled fish just like a poultry carcass. This didn’t work. The bones were too delicate, the stock boiled over and the bones stuck to the pan. Any meat that was in the head was overcooked and flavourless. The liquor was ok, but there wasn’t very much of it relative to the effort involved.

I soon learned that fish bones require a much gentler, shorter simmering time than bird bones, and the bones of an already cooked fish are not the best candidates, unless it was a fish big enough to serve a couple of people and you removed the (cooked) meat from the head first. In fact, it is probably the skin more than the bones that makes the stock, particularly if it is an oily fish, since the deposits of omega-3-rich fats are more closely associated with the skin than the bones.

Picture of fatty deposits under fish skin

Longer cooking would release more of this fat, but overcook the delicate meat.

Currently, my favourite way to make fish stock is to start with the raw head, and maybe tail/bones in a smallish pan. Cover with cold water, toss in a bay leaf. Bring to a gentle boil, lower heat and cook for a maximum of 10 minutes. Strain immediately and use or store the stock as desired, but do not discard solids yet. When cool enough to handle, carefully pick out the meat from the head (and tail); discard bones and skin. Fish head meat is even more tender than the rest of the fish, and since this meat has only been cooked once, gently, it is a particular delicacy. The cats were right all along.

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I'm an American living in the UK, combining rural Mid-west ideas about food with a suburban coastal British reality. It's fun!

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Posted in Kitchen Economy
6 comments on “Stock making with bones part three: fish
  1. Gale Wright says:

    How much stock do you end up with? Do you end up making chowder with it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] three: Fish soup (using stock from the fish bones, larger pieces of leftover fish, leftover fennel stuffing and and uncooked fennel left from making […]

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  3. […] the main body into steaks, fillet the tail, and give me the tail bones and the head so I could make stock. (When you buy whole fish, they weigh the whole thing first and charge you for that, no matter how […]

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What’s Creative Economy in the Kitchen about?
Sharing a lifetime of experience of kitchen challenges. Respecting food and making the most of what's available. Read more on my About page.
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March 2015
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