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Aromatic Fish Stock

The fish . . . was a poem.

1 quart


20 minutes to prep, and 45 minutes on the stove

Make sure to rinse the bones if they contain traces of blood or organs. Treat the enterprise with some delicacy and you’ll be rewarded with nuanced, delicate flavor and clarity. Fish stock is more perishable than meat stock—it should be used within 48 hours—but it freezes well.


In the French kitchen, it is called fumet, which means “aroma,” and its aroma is very lovely, as if a school of fish were being borne off to heaven on raft of aromatics in a cloud of white wine. Fish stock has near magical properties, too. Subtly, elegantly, the way layers of sheer, beautiful undergarments change the gestalt of a basic wardrobe, you cannot see the fish stock in a dish, yet you know it is there. Shrimp and grits, made with fish stock, achieves fresh depth and bearing. As does shrimp bisque. Or chowder. Or a modest little butter sauce. We’re just saying.

So no matter how much we all hate messing with fish bones (and we do), or wonder whether someone will clean them for us (and we do), we’re equally mindful of the fact that fish stock is a really nice elixir to have on hand. It’s quick, too.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven, a chinois, a medium saucepan, and a medium bowl or 4-cup liquid measuring cup.

    • 3
      tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter

    • 1
      large leek, well washed and chopped

    • 1
      yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
    • 1
      carrot, peeled and finely diced
    • 1
      celery rib, finely diced
    • 2
      garlic cloves, peeled and halved
    • 2
      pounds fish frames (and heads, if possible) from white fish, cleaned and chopped into 4- to 5-inch lengths
    • 2
      cups decent dry white wine or vermouth
    • 5
      cups spring or filtered water

    • 6
      sprigs fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

    • Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
    • 1
      Turkish bay leaf
    • 2
      teaspoons black peppercorns

    Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat until it foams. Add the leek, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cover and sweat the vegetables until they soften, about 5 minutes. Add the fish bones, cover and sweat them until they turn opaque, about 5 minutes more. Stir in the white wine, cover, and continue to cook gently until the bones begin to break down, about 10 minutes. Add the water, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 30 minutes.


    Strain the stock through a chinois into a medium saucepan. You should have about 5 cups. Discard the fish bones and vegetables. Simmer the stock over medium-high heat until reduced to 1 quart. Transfer to a medium bowl or 4-cup liquid measuring cup and refrigerate immediately. When the stock is thoroughly chilled, use a spoon to remove and discard the fat from the surface. Use the stock within 48 hours, or freeze it for up to 2 months.