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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Basic Fish Stock

There's much to be said about a good chicken, beef or vegetable stock but a simple, light fish stock is the base for endless possibilities.

I usually plan one soup dish in the weeks’ menu and if it isn’t chicken it's a basic fish stock made with a flavourful, light tasting variety of fish.

My mother made this stock frequently and my father taught us that the varieties of fish with the most bones make the tastiest stock. The head should never be discarded since this is where the best flavour is hiding which adds to a great tasting stock.

I don’t dispute these facts but in my experience the more bones a fish possesses, the harder it is on the eyes, in other words it certainly won’t get points for beauty. This may discourage most of us from bringing one home and putting it into the pot.

In the traditional recipe the herbs and spices used are standard and no deviations are permitted. This recipe has probably been handed down for several generations and I guess in past times one did not question or dare have any suggestions for improvement to a long standing recipe.

Perhaps this was because of the opinion that the recipe needed no improvement. On the other hand there may not have been anyone brave enough to tread unknown waters and throw something different into the pot.

Within the past year I’ve dared to wander a little from the original recipe and think improved it somewhat though it didn’t meet with my mother’s approval.

She is still holding on to her original recipe (unwritten of course) and says it’s perfect just the way it is. She really can’t understand why I would want to make any changes.

The addition of a couple of stalks of celery and an unpeeled golden yellow onion brings a depth or dimension of flavour to the stock that I found lacking in the original recipe.

Varieties of fish like Skate and Whiting make a wonderfully light and tasty stock but boneless salmon portions work very well and I don’t miss the bones at all!

Permission is granted to use this recipe as is, change or deviate to your liking. Enjoy!

Basic Fish Stock

8 cups water (approximately)
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery with leaves
Fresh parsley (couple of sprigs)
Fresh oregano (couple of sprigs, optional)
2 tablespoons dry oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large yellow onion (wash and leave peel on)
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 to 2 ripe tomatoes or 2 to 3 canned plum tomatoes
your choice of fish (4 t0 6 medium size pieces)
  1. Place water into a large pot or pressure cooker.
  2. Add olive oil, celery, parsley, oregano, onion, garlic, tomatoes salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour.
  4. If using a pressure cooker cook for approximately 40 minutes.
  5. After cooking time, strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pot and discard the herbs, spices and vegetables.
  6. Bring strained stock up to a boil, add fish then bring up to a boil again.
  7. Once it comes up to a boil again turn heat off and remove pot from burner, carry over heat will continue to cook the fish. Be careful to not over cook the fish.
  8. If you used inedible parts of the fish like the head now is a good time to remove and discard since they have served their purpose and don't suggest using them for presentation.
  9. Remove remaining fish from stock and follow some of the serving suggestions listed below.

Notes, Tips and Suggestions

  • For those who find it difficult to cook anything with a head or face on it, varieties like Dory, Tilapia or Halibut which have been boned and cut into portions may be alternative options and are readily available prepackaged and frozen.
  • Thicker pieces are better for this recipe as thinner cuts will probably break apart in the cooking process.
  • If no fresh or canned tomatoes are available substitute approximately ¼ cup tomato puree.
  • If purchasing fresh fish from a fish market look for clear eyes, moist not dried out skin and a fresh, not fishy smell. For a few extra pennies per pound most markets will be more than happy to clean it for you removing the scales, fins and inner organs.
  • Before cooking, just wash the fish in cold, salted water and drain well.

Serving Suggestions

The addition of some fine chopped noodles to the stock also known as” filini” translated “little strings” makes a great first course.

The cooked salmon can also be broken into chunks and added to the soup and noodle bowl.

The fish can be served with a salad on the side and the addition of a few slices of garlic bread takes care of the second course.

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