This is a building block that can end up in numerous other recipes. Whenever possible I try to have a few portions of soup stock in the freezer. They're great for whipping up quick and easy meals that rely less on using chemical-laden processed food.
Start by Taking the Bait
It's my firm belief that all good soups start with some lovely bones. And the best way to get some for making a great fish stock is to find a fishmonger you trust and get friendly with them!
Given all the fillets that fishmongers sell, they more often than not have heaps of fish skeletons lying around, especially if you go towards the end of the market day. The well known and regarded Steve Hatt in Angel, London will sell fish heads and skeletons for a token sum. My favourite fishmonger in London -- Steve Hall, founder of Handpicked Shellfish Company -- has on more than one occasion generously let me simply help myself to his stash of hake and cod skeletons, taking home as much as I can carry. "Better that you do something with it," he says, "I just use them as bait in the crab traps otherwise."
This is serious foodie arbitrage folks. I hope I can repay Mr Hall's generosity by spreading by good word about his stellar produce. (A note on etiquette: If your fishmonger is as generous, make sure you keep him in business with regular purchases, and not just scavenge)
One tip I picked up from a fish cookery class with John Benbow, who runs Food at 52 in Central London: For basic fish broth, best to use white fish (e.g. hake, bream, turbot) rather than oily fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel), as the latter might have too overpowering a taste.
Above: One man's bait box is another's treasure chest
Like a Fish to Water
- 1 or preferably 2 whole skeletons of white fish, rinsed and gills removed
- 1 large carrot (or 2-3 small ones), cut into 3-4 sections
- 1 large onion (or 2-3 small ones), quartered
- 2 -3 sticks of celery
- A pinch of black peppercorns
- 1-2 bay leaves
- Salt to taste
- Optional: A palm-ful of dried shrimp for extra sweetness
- Place all the ingredients in a stock pot and fill with room-temperature water (preferably filtered) till the pot covers all of the ingredients
- Turn the heat on the stove to medium-high. Leave the lid off so that as the water reduces the flavours will concentrate
- Another tip from John at Food at 52: The protein in the fish head and eyes start to break down after boiling for more than 1/2 hour, which might leave a bitter aftertaste in the stock. I mitigate this by removing the fish head from the pot after the first 1/2 hour of boiling. The rest of the fish skeleton doesn't cause the same problem, as far as I can tell
- Boil for another 60-90 minutes. If you don't plan to use it right away, you want it as concentrated as possible for easier storage. You can always rehydrate the concentrate when needed later
- Strain the stock with a fine-mesh sieve or muslin cloth (the latter is better if you're a purist about removing the "scum" from the surface of the stock)
- Portion the stock our for storage (e.g. ice-cube trays are good for gravy-sized portions; Lock 'n' Lock boxes are good for soup-sized portions)
- Wait for the stock to cool, then store in freezer. Use within 2 weeks
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