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Jul 25, 2011 09:20 PM

Lip-Smacking Fish Soup/Stew

I've been craving a really delicious fish soup or stew, but no recipes or restaurants have really been hitting the mark.

I'm looking for that sticky, lip-smacking, deeply fishy broth that you get with a really good cioppino or fisherman's stew.

Whether there is tomato, whether it's spicy, whether it's a mix of seafood or just one type of fish, or whether it's complex or as simple as fish, water, and salt, I'm into it!

That succulent, gelatinous seafood broth is what I'm after. Tips and recipes both welcome!

Thanks everyone!!

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  1. Start by making fish stock. Get yourself a couple of salmon heads and collar and create a nice stock from that.

    Then, it's all elementary and personal from there. Veggies, fish, shellfish, etc. Anything you add to thick, rich stock will taste good.

    9 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Thanks! Interesting recommendation for salmon... will definitely give that a shot. For the stock itself, that's where I need the most help. I've read lots of different things... add a little vinegar to help dissolve the collagen, simmer don't boil, etc etc. I've got the animal bone based stock basics down... just not sure if this translates to fish.

      1. re: iprobeattoomuch

        For fish stock this is what I do (it's a Chinese technique my mom taught me).

        Get some fish head w/collar attached, or just a whole darn fish if it's easier for you.

        Ask your fish monger to fry it for you. Yes, the entire thing.

        Then slice up some ginger and green onions.

        Take your stock pot, add the ginger and green onions along with some corn or veggie oil and "stir fry" it a bit until the onions are a bit charred and browned.

        Then add water along with some peppercorns and star anise

        Bring it to a boil. Let it boil at a gentle pace for a good 10 minutes.

        Then add the fish.

        Then bring it back to a full boil.

        Simmer for about 1-2 hours.

        Remove the ingredients, then strain.

        Voila! Fish stock.

        (Reserve the fish head for those moments you are alone with your bib, and then go at it!)

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Ipsedixit, you guys on the opposite coast can be funny sometimes. Fishmongers will fry fish for you out there ?? I can't say with 100 percent certainty that we have that luxury here, but I have had lobsters steamed by fishmongers. I think that's as far as it goes.

          1. re: Cheese Boy

            No kidding. No one would fry a fish for you here (Ohio).

            But it is interesting to make stock from a pre-fried fish, never tried that.

            1. re: thimes

              99Ranch, a California-Chinese grocery chain, has a fish frying service. I haven't tried it myself, but often see a whole fried fish wrapped in paper sitting on top of the display counter waiting for the customer. And they do have a section of open iced fish display devoted to fish heads.

              1. re: thimes

                @Cheese Boy and thimes,

                Yup, they sure do where I live. In addition to just about every Chinese grocery store, other ethnic markets will as well -- specifically Hispanic markets.

                And some American markets do it as well -- Ralphs comes to mind.

                The reason for frying the fish and then making stock out of it is that it keeps the fish intact and the flesh from flaking off. Keeps the broth clear and uncluttered with fish meat, while allowing you to suck it out at your own leisure directly off the bone.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Ipsedixit, one other question. What fish do you use often for stock? We have tilefish here, and salmon heads often available. They're usually pretty big too.

                  1. re: Cheese Boy

                    I like salmon head and collar the best.

                    But I will work with Carp, Black Bass and Rock Cod as well.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I think H-mart (a Korean supermarket with stores here in the northeast) will fry them for you too.

      2. That flavor that you are looking for is all about the home-made fish stock, though I do it differently that what has been posted.

        I buy a few fish heads and carcasses from the fish people. For me I call Whole Foods that morning and tell them to save a few heads and carcasses from any white fish they have (grouper, snapper, flounder, mahi-mahi, etc). I would never use salmon as I think the flavor is too strong and oily for a fish stock - but I do try to get at least 3 different types of fish. (sometimes I'll even use shrimp shells if I have frozen any)

        All those heads and carcasses go into a big pot of cold water and are brought up to a bare simmer. Skim off any scum (this part is really the same as any bone based stock).

        Then I like to add leeks, fennel, garlic, bay leaves, parsley, carrot, celery (these can change based on what I have on hand or what I'm in the mood for but basic stock type veggies).

        I do never boil the stock - and so simmer for about 1.5 - 2 hours depending on the size of the pot and fish heads - and strain.

        For the types of soup you are talking about it sounds like you have a pretty good handle on how to use the stock. I use the fish stock the same way I'd use chicken stock. So if it is a very simple fish soup I may reduce the stock a little more to get a richer taste - if it is chiopino I add tomato paste, tomatoes, etc/etc/etc and don't worry about reducing the stock as much. I love adding saffron to my fish stocks too (not too much) but such a great flavor.

        7 Replies
        1. re: thimes

          I agree on not using salmon. get a big white meat fish head- tile fish is ideal, as it is huge and meaty. (Grouper, striped bass are also ideas) That will provide gelatin and flavor, but add shrimp heads- much more flavor and a nice orange color.

          1. re: EricMM

            :( if only I could get shrimp heads . . . . .

            1. re: thimes

              Sorry, I just have to say it: There is one on every shrimp.

            2. re: EricMM

              Of course, adding shrimp means you are making seafood stock, not fish stock. Given my allergies, I really hate it when restaurants say fish stock, when there are actually shellfish in there. I should not need an epi-pen to eat dinner.

              1. re: smtucker

                OK. Now I have an idea for the stock. So lets get to some recipes. I am not a fish lover, but would like to make something for my hubby.

                1. re: smtucker

                  very true - then it would be seafood stock - but it is still tasty (epi-pen notwithstanding)

                  1. re: thimes

                    I love provencal fish stew with a spicy rouille - try the recipe at

            3. Don't think they still do it, but Mariani's Restaurant in Santa Clara used to have cioppino every Friday, made from a stock the chef had been adding to all week. The line would start forming at around 10:30, because there was just so much of that stock, and when they were out they were OUT; on I think two occasions we got seated too late, and once we had to draw straws to see who'd get the remaining three or four servings. I don't remember the broth being particularly gelatinous, only that when I'd take that first sip the whole ocean exploded in my mouth. I've had soupe de poisson at La Pinede between Nice and Monaco, and it was terrific, but nowhere near as shatteringly evocative of the sea as Mariani's cioppino.

              7 Replies
              1. re: Will Owen

                While I've been surprised at how body a quick salmon or halibut collar stock has, I would hardly call it sticky. I get sticky, lip smacking stock from cows feet, not fish.

                1. re: paulj

                  Forgive the thread creep, but doesn't fish/seafood stock require chill time to mature its flavors (say - a full day in a refrigerator)? . . . Also, what is an appropriate shelf life for this very perishable stock?

                  1. re: jbermo

                    Not necessary, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

                  2. re: paulj

                    I associate the stickiness with meat based stocks/broths too. However I know I've had at least one seafood based stock with that lip/smackingness (new word), and even seen tv show hosts (namely Andrew Zimmern) refer to fish broth as such. Anyway, thanks to all for the advice! Very helpful and I'll report back soon with good results hopefully! Now I suppose the question is what to DO with the broth once I get it how I want it? Cioppino? Crusty bread? Asian noodles? Can't wait.

                    1. re: iprobeattoomuch

                      It just occurred to me while everyone is discussing the sticky quality being from meat stocks that a lot of fish soups (or stews, maybe more particularly) that have that rich quality have some sort of pork flavoring in them (like salt pork). Could a piece of salt pork added to the rich fish stock and simmered be the trick? I may be way off base here, but thought I'd toss the thought into the ring

                      1. re: WCchopper

                        No. You'd lose the fish flavor.

                        And salt pork does not create what you call the "sticky" quality, because the "sticky" quality comes from gelatin.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          pork skin is a great source of gelatin. Fish skin could be a good source.

                2. Speaking of fish stocks, there's a Spanish rice dish called Arroz a banda. A rich fish or seafood stock is prepared. The seafood is cooked in it, and then set aside. Rice is cooked in the broth and served first. The reserved seafood is then served with a allioli (almost as an after thought).

                  There are various recipes, some just using fish, this has mixed seafood.

                  1. Pssst, iprobeattoomuch. Come closer, look nonchalant. This is just between you and me. I cheat and use the Better Than Bouillon Fish Base when my own fish stock is a little weak and halfhearted. The fish stock I make with what I have on hand without advance planning rarely lives up to expectations but a little dab of B-than-B helps a lot.

                    If questioned I will deny all knowledge of this conversation.