Master Fish Stock

Chef Mark Sullivan says that a truly great fish stew tastes complex but shouldn’t be difficult to make. An aromatic broth—made from fish head and bones—is the crucial first step.

  • Active:
  • Total Time:
  • Servings: Makes about 3 1/2 quarts


  • 1 pound fish head and bones, gills removed (see Note)
  • Ice water
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
  • 4 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, halved
  • 1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1/2 pound littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • One 750-ml bottle dry white wine
  • 4 quarts chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 6 parsley sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns

How to make this recipe

  1. Put the fish head and bones in a large bowl, cover with ice water and let soak for 1 hour. Drain well.

  2. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, fennel, celery and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add the fish head and bones along with the mussels, clams, white wine and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over low heat and simmer for 1 hour, skimming off the foam as it rises to the surface. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon, thyme and parsley sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns. Let steep for 30 minutes.

  3. Strain the broth through a fine sieve and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make Ahead

The broth can be refrigerated for 1 day, or frozen for up to 3 months.


Ask your fishmonger for the head and bones from a mild, non-oily white fish, such as cod, snapper, halibut or sea bass.

Contributed By Published September 2014

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