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Is Making Your Own Seafood Stock

Is Making Your Own Seafood Stock Worth It?

As someone who lives in a small town with an actual working fish dock, I’ve been expanding my seafood repertoire. After mastering seasonal monkfish and oyster shucking, I wanted to try something more challenging, but also sustainable. So I set my sights on homemade seafood stock.

As anyone who has made their own stock knows, it’s miles tastier than bouillon or boxed versions. It also uses all the parts of the animal, something that Renee Toupounce, the chef of the Oyster Club in Mystic, Connecticut, appreciates. “We work a lot with whole fish, so we try to utilize every bit that we can,” Toupounce says.

My interest in making my own seafood stock grew over the course of several conversations with my local fishmonger Jon Stelmach, who sells fresh catch as Jon Fish at farmers markets in Connecticut and Rhode Island. I’ve been making chicken stock for years, and it has enhanced everything I cook. So I wondered: is homemade seafood stock really better than the store-bought version? And is it complicated?

While buying pre-made stock is an option in a pinch, it doesn’t take a gourmand to taste the difference, and the homemade stuff is easier to make than you might think, says Michael Schlow, the chef behind the new seafood-focused Boston restaurant, Seamark: “It’s a fairly easy thing to do — it feels like it’s going to be laborious, but it’s not.”

Part of the key to making good stock is the fish itself: for a fin fish-based stock, Schlow recommends using neutral fish (meaning the bones and, ideally, the head and tail, which have a lot of flavor). “Things like halibut, cod, haddock, pollock, all those types of fish, are perfectly great to make seafood stock,” he says. Both he and Stelmach recommend staying away from oilier fish like salmon and mackerel, which can give the stock a heavy, overly fishy taste.

One very important lesson that I learned the hard way is not to over season the stock. No strong herbs like sage or rosemary, or you’ll end up with a broth that tastes more like wet herbs than the delicate seafood. You want to build on the flavor of the fish, not overpower it.

Schlow himself likes to add fennel and a bit of vermouth. “If there’s going to be any herbs in there, it’s going to be lighter herbs,” he says. “Things like thyme or parsley.”

Touponce echoes Schlow’s advice. “I don’t really ever use carrots,” she says. “I use white onion and celery or fennel. Things that aren’t going to turn the color or change the flavor. That’s going to take away from you being able to taste the fish. More of the soft, elegant ingredients always work out better, so that way you can get the true flavor to come through.”

To actually make the stock, you’re going to want a large pot with a lid, or a slow cooker. But this isn’t a set it and forget it process: you need to be sure the heat is low, and let the stock simmer.

“I think with fish stocks, you don’t want to have a rapid boil and overwork it,” Touponce says. “Something that goes low and slow always comes out better than rushing the process.”

It also doesn’t take that long — usually an hour or two, “depending on how much you’re making,” Schlow says. And keep in mind that fish is more fragile than chicken or beef, so overcooking will make it bitter.

To make a pure shellfish stock, either save the shells of lobster, crab, and shrimp (but not oysters or mussels, as the shells impart almost no flavor), or ask for some at your grocery store fish counter or seafood market. Many purveyors will set them aside for you, and may have some good tips of their own.

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