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Nyonya Delicacies

Making a Fish Stock

(Newsletter Issue #003)


How to prepare and make a fish stock

A classic fish stock (also known as fish broth) is made by gently simmering fish heads and bones in white wine and water with onions and a bouquet garni. Like other stocks, fish stocks can be made with uncooked bones for a light colored and flavored effect, or with bones that are first browned for a richer flavor.


Lean non-oily fish such as flatfish, sea bass, striped bass and snapper make good all-purpose white fish stocks for use in sauces, braised fish dishes and paellas. For a full-bodied brown fish stock such as the one used for bouillabaisse, brown the bones and vegetables before adding water so that their juices caramelize to give the stock a deep, rich flavor.


A red-wine fish stock is made with the browned bones of an oilier fish, salmon, which has too strong a flavor for a classic stock. This stock is made with red wine instead of water and white wine. Carrots add flavor and sweetness to red-wine fish stock but are rarely used in a classic white fish stock.

Kitchen Tips

  • As a general rule, measure about 2 cups of water per 1/2 kg of bones. The water should just barely cover the bones. Too much liquid will make the stock too diluted and weak. When making a brown fish stock, slightly less liquid is required, because the bones will have fallen apart and will take up less space.

  • Soak fish bones in cold water to get rid of any traces of blood, which would discolor the stock. Cut out the gills for the same reason.

  • Snap the backbones in one or two places to break them up before cooking. This releases the gelatin in the bones and makes the bones more compact so that you can use less water.  Leave heads whole as it is almost impossible to break them up and moreover, they'll fall apart as they cook.

  • Because fish stock cooks for less time than chicken stock, the onions must be cut smaller so they release their flavor faster. Chop or slice them.

  • Fish stock cooks for much less time than poultry or meat stocks. About 20-30 minutes is often sufficient because the bones break down and release their gelatin quickly. Don't cook longer than necessary or the stock will taste fishy.

Fish Stock

A classic fish stock is made by simmering the bones and heads (professionals call it "frames") from filleted fish with sliced onions, a bouquet garni, a little white wine and water. Fish stock should not be simmered for more than 30 minutes, or it will develop too strong a flavor.


  1. Remove any guts from the fish's rib cage. Some cooks gut fish before filleting, in which case the frames will not contain any, but it's easier to fillet the fish before gutting and then remove the guts from the frames.
Removing the guts from the fish's cage.
  1. Remove the gills.
Removing the gills.
  1. Snap the fish's spine in a couple of places by bending it. Soak the fish bones and heads in cold water for a couple of hours. Leave the bowl in the refrigerator or add ice. change the water every 30 minutes.
Snapping the fish spine and soak.
  1. Combine the drained fish heads and bones in a pot with a bouquet garni, sliced onion, and enough water to barely cover. Pour in a small amount of wine. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Strain.
Combine everything and simmer.

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