Why It Works
- Soaking and washing the bones removes excess blood, leading to a more delicate, fresher-tasting stock.
- Small-diced vegetables give more flavor to the stock, especially given the short cooking time.
- The short cooking time keeps the flavor light and fresh, but still extracts plenty of gelatin from the fish bones for a stock with good body. (It will turn to a jelly when chilled.)
As with most classic preparations, fish stock comes with lots of rules. We put them to the test to see which matter and which don't. This recipe is the result, and it couldn't be easier.
- 2 pounds bones and heads of lean, white-fleshed fish, such as snapper or bass, gills removed
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion (about 1/2 large onion)
- 1 cup diced fennel bulb (about 1/2 large bulb)
- 1 medium leek, minced
- 2/3 cup diced celery (about 2 large ribs)
- 2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups water
- 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- 2 sprigs tarragon
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 whole black peppercorns
Place fish bones and heads in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Stir in kosher salt until dissolved. Let stand 1 hour. Drain, then rinse fish under cold running water, washing away any large areas of blood (such as near spine).
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, fennel, leek, celery, and garlic, and cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in fish heads and bones. Add wine and cook, stirring, until it begins to steam. Add 4 cups water (liquid should just barely cover heads and bones; if not, add just enough more to barely cover). Add parsley, tarragon, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
Bring liquid to a bare simmer, then lower heat so that it stays just below a simmer, with only the occasional bubble. Cook for 20 minutes. Using a spoon, skim off any scum that accumulates on the surface.
Strain fish stock through a fine-mesh strainer, then chill. Fish stock can be kept refrigerated, covered, for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Soaking and washing the fish bones and heads helps create a more delicate stock, but don't drive yourself crazy. Our tests showed that removing blood has a subtle effect—enough to make it worth doing, but not worth being obsessive about.