Monday, August 15, 2011

Easy Fish Stock

I feel a little better about myself if I know that I've got a homemade stock stored in tupperware containers in the freezer. That may be a little weird, but then again, isn't it kind of a pain to go out to the store just to buy chicken, beef, or vegetable stock? And isn't it a little expensive? Those cans hold about two cups of liquid a piece, and cost about a buck fifty where I'm from. I might need four to five cans to make a proper soup. At any rate, I feel that they're a little expensive, a bit of a superficial shortcut, and also that I've sold myself short each time I don't take the time to boil down that leftover chicken carcass, or those extra fish heads from the fish market, or those beef bones that were practically a steal from Valley View Farm's stand at the Dewey Square Farmers Market. That's right, canned stock makes me feel a little lazy, because it means that I didn't take the time to use the whole animal, and then I'm overwrought with guilt at being a culinary cheater.
Alright, that is a little over dramatic. I actually do have a few cans of stock in the pantry in addition to my homemade stock in the freezer. But despite having stock on hand, there is that rare occasion where you have a recipe in mind that is so spectacular, that you find yourself making stock simply to hit the right notes on said promising recipe. You find yourself in fact purchasing proteins where you know that there will be bones and other bits leftover, so that you can make a perfect stock to be used in the dinner the next day. If you're really hell bent for leather, then you buy rainbow trout with the heads, fins, spine attached (see entry: Rainbow Trout), raw small shrimp with the shells intact (see entry: Shrimp Cocktail), and a pound of little necks to steam and save the clammy broth. Of course the shrimp, clams, and trout are outstanding... but I was definitely purchasing them with the idea in the back of my mind that aside from making a specticular dinner on one evening, I would be making a delectable fish stock with all of the "throwaway" elements just mentioned to use in a very promising meal the next day. And so we have it: Mission Fish Stock.
The seafood items that will be going into this stock include the heads, fins, and spines from the two beautiful rainbow trout that I had purchased for dinner from Rowand Fisheries. After slicing out filets from the two fish, I had the leftovers to set aside for the stock that would simmer away. I also had the shells from a half pound of small shrimp that would be used for the shrimp cocktail. These left over, throw aways were also set aside for the stock. And then, as a little extra bonus, I purchased a pound of littleneck clams to steam. As a quick preparation, I set a large soup pot on the stove with about a half inch of water on the bottom. I also went ahead and added about a 3/4 of a cup of dry white wine. When the liquid began to bubble, I dropped in the littlenecks (littlenecks have very little sand when fresh from the waters of New England, but it is worth scrubbing them off with a sponge). Left for about three minutes to steam in the covered soup pot, I took a look, and all of the clams, except for one dud, had opened up. I removed the clams from the pot, extracted the meat, and discarded the shells. The slightly cloudy clam broth will be used to flavor the fish stock. 
Now, of course, a stock is not simply your nasty bits. There must be a vegetable base to round out the flavor of the liquid. I had two tops of fresh onions leftover from earlier cooking adventures. There was also a whole onion, again with the top still attached, that I sliced into thick rounds. I used one medium size carrot, peeled, and very roughly chopped. You'll also want two fairly small stalks of celery, cut into about 1 1/2" pieces. Since we had corn that night for dinner, I also used the naked cobs, because corn adds a little bit of sweetness to any stock, and will be particularly nice in a delicate fish stock. It may also be an appropriate time to set aside your herbs. There's not much going on here. About two big stems of flat leaf parsley, a couple sprigs of fresh thyme, and three peppercorns.
So, start building your stock. Two tablespoons of butter go into a low heat dutch oven. Once melted, add all of your veggies, but not the herbs. Toss everything around, and put a lid on the pot. These items will steam themselves for about five minutes. You don't want them to brown, but instead simply want the mixture to begin releasing their flavors for the stock. After these few minutes, open the pot, and throw in all of your fishy bits. Stir them around, and let them steam for about five minutes more. The bones and shrimp shells will begin to turn into an opaque white, and the characteristic shrimp pink. When this has occurred, add about a half cup of dry white wine. Take a deep whiff of the items in the pot. When it no longer smells of alcohol, you can add your herbs and the few peppercorns, your clam broth, and then about enough water to reach about 4/5 up the side of the pot. And now we wait. On low heat, keep checking to ensure that the broth is simmering very slowly. It should take about forty-five minutes to an hour, and each time you pass by the pot, you should smell a deeply evolving, sweet fish stock.
When the stock has simmered for enough time, and the flavor has grown to that of lightly poached seafood and sweet vegetables, it is ready. Grab a vessel that will be large enough to hold all of the liquid and use a wire mesh to strain out all of your veggies and seafood items. The broth should be a bit cloudy, maybe a little murky, but should also have a beautiful yellow grow. Allow it to cool, and then store in the fridge until you are ready for your next adventure. If it's your intention, you can also store in the freezer for about two months. 
What's my intention? Tomorrow, I am making smoked fish chowder. Yeah, I'm excited too. 

Fish heads, bones, fins removed from two rainbow trout (though the more fish bones the merrier... I've heard that white fish bones, like turbot, flounder, haddock work well)
Shells from 1/2 pound of small shrimp
1 pound of little neck clams, water and wine to steam
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 small stalks of celery, cut into 1 1/2" pieces
1 medium onion, and any long onion tops you may have, roughly sliced/chopped
2 big stems of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 peppercorns
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of dry white wine
Enough water to cover everything, reaching approximately 4/5 up the side of a large dutch oven

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