How to Make a Great Seafood Stock

I know it's a lot easier when a recipe calls for "stock" to chuck in a couple of bouillion cubes and some water. Or worse, to purchase overpriced, ready-made stock from the store.

At the risk of sounding like Slave Galley Kitchen rather than Casual Kitchen, I cannot allow you to take this particular shortcut anymore. It is borderline unethical. Your cuisine will suffer for it, and you'll be ingesting excess salt. And for what--a little expedience?

The only time I'll guiltily indulge in expedient behavior like this is if I'm really, severely pressed for time and I need to crank out a dinner pronto. And even then I can't bring myself to buy ready-made stock. Instead, what I'll do is use one cube of bouillion per two cups of water for a milder, less salty substitute.

But when you do have some time, try making your own stock. Enjoy how it makes your dishes richer and tastier and yet adds no sodium whatsoever. Moreover, it's so easy to make a huge batch and freeze it up in ready-made containers that you'll never want to go back to the salt-laden pre-made stuff.

Seafood Stock:

Put into a large stock pot:

2-3 onions, quartered, leave the papers/peelings on (yes, you read that right--leave 'em on)
Several cloves garlic, smashed or cut in half (again, leave the papers/peelings on)
2-3 whole celery sticks
Any vegetable trimmings or peelings from whatever recipe you are serving
All of the shrimp shells from the recipe you're using, or use a few shrimp cut into pieces, shells and all (can also substitute pieces of fish or other seafood, or even oyster sauce if you're desperate)

Fill stock pot with cold water, add more than enough water to cover the all the stock ingredients already in the pot.

Bring water to a boil on high heat, then turn heat to medium low, set lid slightly askew, and simmer for a minimum of four hours, but as much as eight hours if you have time.

After the stock has simmered, strain it into measured amounts and freeze for future use.

Note that even though this is a stock recipe specifically for seafood, it can easily serve as a fundamental base for any kind of stock.

For vegetable stock, just leave out the seafood (duh). For beef or chicken stock, just toss in some tailings, skin, fat or bones from the meat you're using from your recipe. You can also brown any beef or chicken bones and meat in a non-stick skillet before adding it into the pot. Browning them this way will give the stock an even richer taste.

A few final observations:

1) First of all, I'll never forget the first time I tried to make stock this way. I was thinking, "seriously, you just hack the onions and garlic into a few pieces and toss 'em in the pot? You mean you just leave the peelings on?"

It seemed so.... so irreverent. But that's exactly the way to do it. Leaving the peelings and papers on actually adds to the flavor, and it saves you from having to do any prep work (who said there's no such thing as a free lunch?). Thus putting everything together literally takes two minutes.

2) Note that I don't add any spices or seasonings to the stock. No black pepper, no salt (obviously) and no cayenne pepper. The point here isn't to make something spicy or heavily flavorful. The recipe you'll use the stock in will contain its own spices. The stock is supposed to be a vehicle, nothing more.

3) This is one of the few times when you get to bend the rule to stay near the kitchen. Also, fortunately, this is a dish that scales well. Use your biggest pot and make as much stock as you feel you have room for in your freezer.

4) When I said using ready-made stock or bouillion was borderline unethical, I was just exaggerating for effect. Indulge me--I need to say things like this once in a while in order to stand out in blogland! So, if you've used ready-made stock or bouillion in the past, or if you choose to do it at some point in the future, you are not a bad person. Well, not that bad a person. :)

Stock on!


Anonymous said...

some thoughts...

I find it hilarious that the day after the stock market goes down 400+ points, you post a blog about stock. Any connection there?

Does the fish stock stink up the house?

When making beef or chicken stock, you might want to put it in the fridge for a while before freezing. This allow the fat to separate and rise, then you can scrape off the yellow globs. Yum!

Bethany said...

I thought of you today as I was throwing out all sorts of vegetable skins, tops & peels while making stew. No room in the freezer for a stock portfolio.

Hey-- can you recommend a good knife for chopping veggies?

Anonymous said...

I thought you used fish heads for fish stock?

Daniel said...

You CAN use fish heads--but no need to specifically go out and BUY fish heads (ewwww). The great thing about stocks (the liquid kind--hey, that's a double pun, isn't it?) is you can use whatever trimmings are left over from what you're cooking.

And yes, definitely you can separate out the fat if you want to, makes it healthier and costs very little in terms of flavor.


TAURUS25 said...

Thanks for posting this, it makes sense to leave the veg skins on. Someone asked if leaving this pot bubbling for so many hours will stink up the house of fish. . . I'd say most likely yes, since its gonna be steaming all over the place. I know you want to stray from adding any spices or extra stuff to this but would adding some bay leaves be a good addition?

Daniel said...

Taurus, it's not necessary but if you have a bay leaf or two handy and want to add it in, feel free. Thanks for reading!


Vegas Cabbie Rudy said...

What if I absolutely hate, loathe, abhor, and despise celery?? I find it bitter and yucky and horrible. Is there an alternate vegetable that could do the job? Carrots maybe? I can't think of another vegetable that could survive 8 hours of simmering.

Daniel said...

Hi Vegas Cabbie Rudy: you can substitute carrots, parsnips--or simply leave out the celery entirely. Your stock will still come out great. Enjoy!


Unknown said...

Greetings, This is just the kind of recipe I was looking for. Simple and to the point. I look for ways to combine two cooking processes. I can eat the fish ingredients afterwards, right?