Video: Making Fish Stock

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist October 14, 2010

In all my years helping folks transition their wayward eating ways back to the tried, true and traditional, I have discovered that making fish stock consistently ranks as one of those kitchen activities with a  “ain’t no way I’m going to do that” sign attached to it.

So, here I am doing a videoblog on making fish stock!   Have I lost my mind?

Probably, as those of you who read this blog regularly have already discovered!

Seriously, though, making fish stock is a very important activity that should be incorporated into the routine of any cook focused on nutrient dense cooking.

Fish stock is the most nutritious stock that you can make.   Not only is it the most nutrient dense, it is also the most inexpensive and the quickest!    In addition, it tastes the best too, in my humble opinion (I’m sipping a cup of red snapper stock as I type this)!


I just LOVE fish stock.  Perhaps this is from my travels in Asia back in 1988-89 when I would have a cup nearly every morning as part of my traditional Japanese breakfast (I did not see fish stock in China, but I’m sure it’s there somewhere, just not where I was).

Making fish stock is very simple and easy.   A few quarts of water, a fishhead or two (plus some bones if you have them) and some vinegar.   A gallon of fish stock will only set you back about $2 and be ready in only 4 hours.   This compares with $20 or so for the leftover bones of a pastured chicken (and 24-48 hours of simmering) or $10-20 for 5 lbs of grassfed beef bones (and 48-72 hours of simmering).

Don’t get me wrong – I make ALL kinds of stock.   Each one has its own unique flavor and adds something special to your cooking repertoire of soups and sauces.

Fish stock, though, genuinely ranks as the most healing of all stocks.  “Fish stock will cure anything” and “Good broth will resurrect the dead” are both South American proverbs.

Unlike other types of stock, fish stock contains thyroid strengthening properties when the fish heads are included in the broth making process.   Who doesn’t need a thyroid boost with the crazy, stressful lives we all lead today?

So, find yourself a quality fish monger in your city or town and make this vitality strengthening food for yourself and your family!

Fish Stock

Ingredients

3 quarts of filtered water
2 lbs of fish heads and bones (fish heads alone will suffice)*
1/4 cup raw, organic apple cider vinegar
Himalayan or Celtic sea salt to taste

*Do not use oily fish such as salmon for fish stock or you will stink up the whole house!   Only use non-oily fish such as sole, turbot, rockfish or, my favorite, snapper.   I’ve also used grouper in a pinch, but the stock does not taste nearly as good.

Instructions

Place water and fish heads/bones in a 4 quart stockpot.   Stir in vinegar while bringing the water to a gentle boil.   As the water first begins to boil, skim off any foam that rises to the surface.   It is important to remove this foam as this is impurities and off flavors.   Reduce heat to a simmer for at least 4 hours and no more than 24 hours.    Cool and then strain into containers for refrigeration.   Freeze what you will not use in one week.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

 

Comments (86)

  1. How do you recommend finding a fishmonger? Are there certain kinds of fish less suitable for stock than others, i.e. farm-bred fish vs. wild?

    Reply
  2. Yes, I'm curious about this as well as I have heard disgusting stories of the fish farms, particularly in China, that dump a bunch of hormones in the water and cram them all together so that disease spreads easily. Reminds me of the way they raise chickens. Sarah, can you provide us with some more information regarding this? Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama October 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Yeah, I've been meaning to make this for weeks. FYI, Whole Foods will sometimes give away their fish heads and bones for free, if you just call and tell them when you're coming and ask them to reserve them. So I'm going to call and get some. This makes it basically free to prepare! I read about it in NT awhile ago and know that many people in my family could really use it.

    Reply
    • The Whole Foods in our area is the only place I can get fish heads and bones of any quality. They do not give them away, but sell them for $1 a pound. They are in big demand though, I find it’s best to call ahead and ask them to set some aside for me.

      Reply
  4. You definitely do not want to use farmed fish for making stock or eating for that matter. Farmed fish are fed grain pellets – digusting!

    It's hard to find wild caught fish in my land-locked state of Colorado much less finding wild caught fish heads and bone – I've already tried when I started GAPS diet 10 months ago.

    I do a veggie broth now because I can't afford pastured chickens or chicken feet and the beef bone broth has to cook forever and my husband hates the smell of it.

    We do eat canned sardines and anchovies. Not as good as fish broth but we do what we can.

    Tina

    Reply
  5. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist October 14, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Yes, get wild fish for sure!! I can only imagine the scum that would come up when you bring the stock to a boil if you used farm raised fish!

    Kate, thanks for the tip about Whole Foods giving away the fish heads and carcasses. That is a wonderful thing to know.

    To find a fish monger, call fish markets around your town and ask. Ask your friends who have boats and do fishing (if you live near the water). Also, if you have small restaurants with excellent gourmet food, ask them where they get their fish locally.

    Reply
  6. I have been calling all over the city of Grand Rapids, Mi for fish heads – everybody gets their fish already deheaded! In fact, the manager of the local Family Fare seafood dept would like to know where you get your red snapper for only $2/lb! She would have ordered whole whitefish and sold the head to me for, I think, $7/lb (the cost of the fish itself)!

    Reply
  7. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist October 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I get the HEADS for $1/lb .. the snapper fillets are significantly more! LOL

    You will have to keep trying to find a business that gets the whole fish! That is scary that so many places just get the fillets anymore. Sounds like you will have to go outside the box on that one. Do you know anyone from an ethnic neighborhood – perhaps someone from the Caribbean Islands .. they eat fish heads regularly from what I imagine and these ethnic areas would know where to get this type of traditional food.

    Reply
  8. Decided to look for a fish shop after seeing your post today and I found one not too far, I called and asked them specifically about fish heads and she said he just got done throwing them in the dumpster!! If I had only called a few hours earlier :( But at least now I know where to go, so next week I should be able to get some possibly for free!!

    Reply
  9. Oh, that's a good idea about going to restaurants. There are a couple of upscale sushi restaurants in Denver I could check out.

    Great post and advice!

    Tina

    Reply
  10. I used to make Greek fish soup avgolemono using ocean perch. This was the best but I tried a combination of red snapper and porgy. My daughter prefers the ocean perch but I can't find it whole. Does anyone know where I can find whole ocean perch in Northern VA, Charlottesville, or anywhere near Raleigh-Durham? I am also looking for fresh or frozen sardines. I heard of a store called H Market but I have not been there.

    Reply
  11. Here is a very old chinese custom that really cuts the odor of fish broth. Cut a one to two inch piece of fresh ginger into quarter sized slices, and put them in the broth before you heat it.

    The ginger will add a slightly spicy flavor to the broth, but it will also absorb the substance that makes fish stink. Remove the ginger when the broth is ready and discard it.

    We have used this technique to make salmon heads into fish broth, without stinking up the house. I make no guarantees, though. Try it at your own risk.

    Reply
  12. The first time I made fish stock for a recipe, I didn't know about not using oily fish. I happened to catch the grocer just after she had filleted a few fish. So I got salmon bones, heads and some pieces of halibut I think. She looked at me funny when I said I wanted fish carcasses for stock. They labeled it chum, not for human consumption, and it checked out for free. Actually though, it didn't stink up the house. There wasn't a lot of excess meat on the bones, it was a good fillet job. What I'd love to see are some recipes in which to use the stock! For a chowder, would you use it instead of water and in addition to clam juice?

    Reply
  13. onceuponthekitchencounter October 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    How long does the broth keep in the fridge? I made fish stock, and then life got crazy for a few days before I got around to freezing the extra. I'm worried that the stuff I have frozen now is somehow 'bad.' I think it was 4-5 days before a froze it. I made mine from red snapper too, but for some reason the heads were WAY smaller than yours in the video…I wonder if I really was getting what I paid for!

    Thanks as usual for your excellent videos!

    Shannon

    Reply
  14. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist October 16, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Hi Shannon, freeze what you won't use in a week. What you froze should be fine. Just reboil it for a few minutes when you thaw it out just to be sure. Snapper heads come in all kinds of sizes – yes, mine were especially large which is why I only used one for a single pot of fish stock.

    Reply
  15. Guess what? I made fish stock – thought I'd NEVER do that and swore that I wouldn't do it! HA-HA! I produced the most luscious, gelatin, substance I’ve ever seen! I made a cream, crab and vege chowder with it last night and it was really so delicious it was unbelievable! I DO have a question though. After I watched your blog I called our Whole Foods and asked the fish guy if he had any fish heads and bones. He said that he had a blue fish. Since I didn’t know a flipping thing about making fish stock I ran to the store and bought the blue fish head and bones and came home and fired it up. While it was cooking I opened Nourishing Traditions and read where Sally said that oily fish shouldn’t be used for fish stock because the long, slow cooking made the fats rancid. Well, I already had it on the stove with vinegar, celery, leeks, carrots, onions, pepper corns and a couple of bay leaves (I was worried about the ‘fishy taste part’) that’s why all the additions. I wasn’t about to throw the whole effort in the trash so I just went ahead with it. I cooked it on medium for 4 hours and then strained it twice. Was that a bad thing to do? Do you ever use oily fish? I don’t call 4 hours a long, cooking and it certainly wasn’t slow. I had a good roiling boil going the whole time. Your thoughts?

    Reply
  16. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist October 20, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Hi Janetlynda, congratulations on getting outside your comfort zone in the kitchen! That is awesome! If the bones you had were pretty well clean of meat, then what you did was fine. You don't want a rolling boil the whole time though, just a blip, blip, blip on the top with a few bubbles as it simmers. Good job!

    Reply
  17. Thank you so much for doing this video. I am pretty far into "traditional cooking", but had always said, "ain't no way I'm doing that". My friends think I am crazy, but I am so glad I did it. I can't believe the energy I get from it. I have been doing GAPS for awhile and my back pain has finally subsided after not even a week of the eating soup with the fish broth every day. It really is so delicious. I made a coconut fish soup and I enjoy a cup for breakfast and one later in the day too.
    -Bethany

    Reply
  18. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for your comments. The reason I was cooking it fast was because I was concerned about what Sally said….(long, slow cooking, bad for oily fish) When I read that in the book I called Whole Foods and asked the fish guy "Is this Blue Fish head an OILY fish?" He said "Yes it is". Here’s my predicament ……I bought TWO Blue fish heads and fairly bare fish bones. Can I (or should I) cook the other one which is currently in the freezer, or should I toss it? I don’t want to serve my family ‘rancid fats.’ Even though I swear that cream/fish stock/crab chowder was the BEST I have EVER tasted…it was amazing! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO!

    Reply
  19. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist October 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Hi Bethany, glad you finally took the plunge with the fish stock. Yes, I also find my back feels like a 20 year old also when I drink fish stock regularly. It is more powerful than other stocks and is my definite favorite. So many people are missing out by not making it!

    Reply
  20. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist October 20, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Hi Janetlynda, if the bones are pretty bare, it should be fine. If you are happy with the fish stock from an oily fish, wait until you try it with snapper – you will go wild it is SO GOOD!

    Reply
  21. Sarah- I am a little confused. I called my fish monger and they have grouper and snapper heads for cheap so I asked if they were cutting snapper today, they said No, but they had grouper heads. I said no thanks, I will wait for the snapper because I want to make a stock. The guy said they make grouper stock all the time and it is much better than snapper. He said it produces more gelatin (I guess) and it does not have scales which if you use snapper, you will have to remove the scales from your stock.

    Is this true? Anyway, I am just gonna try the grouper today (this is the first time I have ever made stock!) and if we don't like it I will try the snapper.

    Reply
  22. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist November 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    I think the snapper stock tastes way better than grouper stock and I've never had to take scales out of it either. Not sure what they are talking about there, but I guess it comes down to personal preference.

    Reply
  23. Do you know why fish (or other stock) sometimes does not gel? I have made fish stock about 4 times and it about half the time it does not gel. Once it made a nice gelatin with the snapper and the next time it did not. I've had the same experience with grouper, so it does not seem to do with the type of fish. I've had the same problem with chicken, but in that case I think I cooked it for too long at too high a temp. But I was careful not to let my fish stock get too hot, but maybe I didn't let it simmer at a high enough temp? I kept looking for the blub, blub, blub and would turn it up a little if I didn't see it. I cooked it for a little over 4 hours with 2 huge grouper heads and a little over 3 quarts of water, but no gelatin. If it tastes okay is it still beneficial to eat?
    bethany

    Reply
  24. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist November 9, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Hi Bethany, no gelling stock is usually caused by too much water. You can boil it down and it should gel nicely. Non gelling stock is fine to eat its just watered down.

    Reply
  25. Hi Sarah,
    I made a fish stock last night from red snapper from my local fish market. The fillets we ate for dinner and while it didn’t taste or smell bad, when cleaning the fish, I thought one didn’t smell/seem as fresh, but thought it was just me, since I just bought them. Well, while simmering the stock, the whole house smelled VERY fishy! The stock turned out very nice looking and gelatinus, but the fish smell is so strong, wonder if it is bad, or if the fish was going bad. How can I tell with nothing to compare it to. Should I still try to use it, or toss it?

    Reply
  26. Hi Sarah,

    You are amazing. I love your blog.
    Can you tell me, what do you do with the remaining fish head in the soup?
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • If your city doesn’t have a yard-waste collection system where they allow you to throw any and all food scraps in (including bones and fish heads), you can do it yourself at home.

      It is called Bokashi (google or youtube for it) and uses a special combination of yeast, lactobacillus bacteria and photosynthetic bacteria to ferment (vs. compost) kitchen waste right in your kitchen. It is a closed system that produces no bad smell (unless you don’t like the smell of fermented vegetables). You use a bucket with a tight lid and a spigot drain, place the Bokashi starter in it, place your kitchen scraps on top and layer each 2 inch layer of scraps with a thin layer of Bokashi. When the bucket is full, you leave it alone for 2 weeks, then bury the fermented scraps in your garden or backyard where soil microorganisms will completely it breakdown in another 3-6 weeks and be VERY nutritious to add to your houseplants or garden. If you put a lot of animal products in the bucket system, simply use more Bokashi as animal products are more difficult to ferment. The system was developed in Japan and has been used since 1980.

      I realize this system won’t be for everyone, but it really is superior to composting. And anyone who has composted animal products know the smell and pest problem it can create! Superior in that fermenting the scraps does not produce the amount of CO2 gasses that composting will do. Also superior in that the fermented product is more nutrient-dense for growing things than compost is.

      Reply
  27. Excellent video and good suggestions! I’d always heard that it was the gills in salmon that made the stock less palatable, Anyhow, I left out the salmon and used striped bass, its head and backbone, and clams. I removed the foam — definitely this makes a difference! No scent of fishiness whatsoever, and I’d been in a separate part of the house for part of the cooking process. I also followed the suggestion to leave out veggies and seasonings (with the exception of a chunk of onion, if only because anything I can imagine that I will do with this stock in the future will involve onions). Very nice video! I am looking forward to a variety of soup possibilities!

    Reply
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  29. Question! :) Suppose that you are unable to determine the way your beef, poultry, or fish was raised, and that certified organic is either unobtainable or unreasonably priced. If there is very little scum at the top when the broth-water comes to a boil, can you assume that the meat or fish you are using is safe? Or, at least, safe enough?

    Reply
  30. If you get a whole fish (from fishing) Would you use the skin (scales)? or just the head, tail, and bones? Do you have a link with some good recipes for the stock?

    Reply
  31. Hi Sarah, thank you for this simple recipe. I`m from Ecuador, and recently I talked with people from a non profit organization that helps people from Esmeraldas in the cost to return to anciente forms of fishing in the mangrove swamp. I told them that I want some fish eggs and head of fishes to make stock and the told me laughing: “if you drink that stock you`ll have triplets”. They said to me that fish stock from the head is the best food.

    Reply
  32. Hi Sara,
    I made fish stock yesterday for the first time and I am just so happy! I have a couple of questions though. I made the stock from a pretty big head of striped bass and a snapper head and tail. I left it simmering for about 11 or 12 hours. I strained it through a colander (didn’t have any cheesecloth available), added some salt, and sipped some as a tea. It was really tasty!

    I was just wondering, do I really have to take the fat out that comes to the top when you refrigerate it? I’m asking because when I was reading Nourishing Traditions it states that we should be eating animal fats to be healthy, so I was just wondering if it’s ok to consume the fish stock along with the fat it contains?

    Also, I put the fish stock in the fridge and took a look at it first thing in the morning to see if it had gelled. It didn’t gel and the fat didn’t turn hard and solid at the top.

    Does this mean I did something wrong, or that there’s something wrong with the stock?

    And is it ok to eat the vegetables I used to make the stock and also eat the fish meat from the fish heads?

    Oh, and one more thing, is it ok to feed the fish stock I made to my baby who just turned 9 months?

    Reply
    • I think that’d be a great idea to give fish stock to a baby! I have a 6 month old who is currently only on breastmilk, but once we branch out to other foods, fish/chicken stock is definately on my agenda to give him.

      Reply
  33. Hi Sara,
    I loved your video on fish stock! I know there are divergent opinions on this, but I try to stick to eating fish that is low in contaminants (heavy metals, PCB’s, etc.). Should I be concerned about this when making fish stock?

    Reply
  34. Awesome video!! We went deep sea fishing and caught tons of grey snapper. Came home and made fish stock from the heads. It was honestly VERY disgusting but I’m so glad I did it. Have tons of stock in the freezer ready to go!

    Reply
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  37. I just called a fish market in my town where I can get carcasses (no heads) and all they can sell me is either bass or halibut. are either one of these suitable for making broth? I really want to get started but I want to make sure I’m doing this right.

    Reply
  38. Sarah, I’m trying to make fish stock today—couldn’t get just fish heads, but I was able to get one whole Thai Red Snapper instead! The question is, what do I do with it :P Should I just cut off the head and stick in the pot or do I need to do something more? Could I just use the whole fish?

    Reply
  39. sadhu vedant muni jain December 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    i am not agree with you that you are propagating non veges.in some articles you are advocating the advantages of vegetarianism.and you have already proved that the the vegas are useful for us. so i request you kindly propagate the uses of vegans more.

    Reply
  40. Hi!

    I like your simplified fish broth recipe. I made the recipe in NT once before, and I thought the flavor of the wine and the herbs was too overpowering. I am used to using beef and chicken stock, but fish broth is pretty new to me. I like making a simple vegetable soup with the beef or chicken stock, for example a pureed carrot soup or something like that. I was wondering if you think fish broth would work well like that too, or if it’s best to use fish broth for making fish/seafood soups? Or are there particular vegetables you think would go well with the fish broth flavor?

    Reply
  41. 1. other than the smell of salmon, [which i don't mind] is there any reason NOT to use it?
    - is carp a good option too? [I'm able to get heads and skeletons of both these fish very easily but they ARE fatty fish]
    2. in probiotics, vinegar is not recommended. what is the purpose of the ACV here?
    thanks for yr answers

    Reply
    • You can use fish stock as a base for soups and chowders. As for cooking rice with it, I’m not sure if the slightly fishy taste would be noticeable or not. You could try it full strength, or use 1/2 water and 1/2 fish stock for rice.

      Reply
  42. So I called Whole Foods and asked if they had fish heads. The person I spoke with said they had heads from striped bass and they would save me some. When I got there the woman handed me this huge eight-pound frozen package. I was about to say I didn’t need that much, when I realized the package contained just ONE striped bass head. LOL! It’s like the size of a shark head or something! I had no clue striped bass were that big. It’s defrosting in my fridge right now. I’m kind of scared to unwrap it!

    Reply
    • Ha ha! That happened to me, too, when I called my fishmonger in advance for some fish carcasses. When I arrived he had carefully packaged two huge grouper carcasses the size of a Buick.

      Reply
  43. Sarah, do you know anything about farm-raised red snapper? I called the best local fish monger here in my city and while they have snapper heads, they are farm-raised. I’ve tried to get wild caught fish carcasses at Whole Foods when I’m in a bigger city, but they usually don’t have them when I’m there. Is this a case where the fish broth is so good for you that the drawbacks of it being farm-raised are negligible?

    Thanks!

    Sandi

    Reply
  44. Hi Sarah,
    I love your website. I check it out all the time. I was wondering do I drink the fish stock cold in the morning or do I reheat it up? And do you just put some seaweed flakes and minced garlic in the cup or garlic clove.
    Thanks so much,
    Jeff

    Reply
  45. Hi Sarah, I know this is an old post, so I’m not sure you’ll get this. I tried making fish stock in my crockpot and I think it just cooked too long and did boil and was kind of dark color. So, I did not eat it and tried making it per your instructions on a gas stove with a heat diffuser. It turned out great, but I can’t say that the taste was something that I was dying to have everyday. So, I added a tsp of white MIso and some scallions and it tasted great. This I could eat everyday! Also, since Miso has probiotics, I assume that there are added health benefits.
    However, I know that WAPF guidelines discourage soy, but say that some Miso is OK. Am I correct? If so, is one tsp. of Miso a day considered an acceptable amount? I would appreciate any advice that you could give me about this. thanks, Joyce

    Reply
    • Small amounts of fermented soy (like miso) are perfectly fine. Sally Fallon gives a wonderful lecture on the toxicity of grains and legumes and how traditional methods of prep mitigate that. If you have traditionally made miso (fermented for at least six months) it does get rid of most of the toxic aspects of soy. And look for variations of miso made with no soy at all! The two I have found are adzuki beans or chickpea varieties.

      Happy eating!
      Melanie

      Reply
    • Hi Melanie, Do you find that most of the fish in an Asian market is wild caught, not farm raised? That is the only place I have been able to find fish heads and carcasses but with the language barrier it’s hard enough to get across what I want much less try to find out if it is farm raised or not. Also they always want to cut out the inner gills. Is it best to do so or am I losing a good part for stock if they remove it? Thanks!

      Reply
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  49. Sara,
    Happy cooking,single guy (aussie,aussie,aussie)stock ideas eg fish heads stocks ,chicken stocks,meat stocks, and vegetable stock, yum can help make the meal taste better,thank you for sharing your chef knowledge, happy cheffing and buy for now(aussie,aussie,aussie)
    I wondering if cooking it on a aussie Bbq would give a little more flavour to the stocks

    Reply
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  54. I had tried the beef stock b4. But I was too scared of leaving the fire on low as I slept. Im guessing the fire stays on low for 48hrs or which ever broth take more than 4 >? I think I will try fish broth

    Reply
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  57. First, I just love your informative website! I have recently dived into the realm of making homemade stocks and yes – fish stock was last on the list of “must do’s”! After last week completing my second batch using snapper head and bones a friend made a comment that made me feel a little uneasy. She said that any parasites on the fish will pass into the broth. As I am giving this to my two little girls I wondered if this is true? Have you ever heard of this being the case?

    Reply
  58. Hi Sarah,

    Just wondering what the cooled fish broth will look like? Will it be as jelly-like as chicken broth or will it be more liquid? Just want to in advance before I make my broth so I know I’ve done it correctly :D

    Reply

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