have a few minutes respite, so I’ll quickly try to upload something before the start of the evening service.
I asked my cooks to see the movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” an emotional and beautiful movie that tells the story of an Indian chef who arrives in France and begins to grow thanks to a wonderful mentor.
The movie discusses often the need to understand the basics, and after seeing it they came to me with a number of questions, such as what velouté sauce was, and more…so we went back to the basics and on today’s list was fish stock.
A few words on stock: a number of times, I’ve heard from young cooks that stocks are passé, unnecessary, and worse.
When I asked them how to make a stock, they had no idea. So the conclusion that it is passé comes from the unfortunate fact that many haven’t learned and don’t know how to make use of them.
A good stock—has no smell and is clear, even if it is a brown stock, and has only a small aroma which ought to remind you what composed it.
The following recipe, which I find really important to pass along to my staff and to you, I have used for more than 24 years, and the chef from whom I received it has used it for 65 years.
When I asked Basso (the chef who taught me) why we put only one bay leaf in such a huge pot, his answer was that he had done so for 40 years (when I met him, which was also when he had been awarded two Michelin stars already), the chef who had taught him had done so for 60 years, etc…so in other words, there are an endless number of ways and methods, and this one works nicely, so do whatever you want.
In time, I will try to prepare and post different recipes that use fish stock in order to illustrate its importance.
In general it’s common to use flat fish like turbot, Barbue, Dover sol, and more…why? Because they are very rich in a protein called gelatin, which gives a wonderful texture to sauces, but its not always possible to get your hands on great quality bons , but almost any fish will do a good job —this is from my experience, and I am sure good cooks and chefs will comment here with different ideas from their own experiences, and that will be interesting.
What is true—salmon bones/skeletons are less commonly used, for the simple reason that chefs love clean stock—and salmon bones color the stock a little—but once you’ve internalized how to make the stock you can use whatever you’d like.
Of all the stocks that can be made, fish stock takes the shortest time, only around 20 minutes.
The first stage—soaking the fish in water and continually replacing the water in order to clean the bones of hemoglobin and the last vestiges of blood—they congeal and cause turbidity in the stock.
The second phase is preparing the ingredients—everything is eyeballed, so I’ll simply write what we used:
1 sliced onion
2 sliced celery stalks
2 peeled lemons (without the rind nor the white pulp), sliced to a thickness of 5mm (someone who wants to be stringent can remove the seeds)
½ teaspoon of salt—in stocks, you almost never use salt because they undergo cooking and various reductions so their natural salt concentrates.
250ml dry white wine
Around 6L warm water
Around 2kg of clean fish bones
1 Bouquet Garni (a bundle of bay leaf, fresh thyme, parsley stalks; we tied them, but in this case because everything was strained we could have simply thrown everything inside).
We also melted a little butter into the pot—as little fat as possible; why? Again, in order not to muddle the stock.
We steamed the onion and celery—for a very short time and without giving any sort of burnt coloring in the pot. Why? A short steaming is in order to give a very fresh taste (the more you reduce the vegetables, the more the stock will have a deeper character). Why without browning? We want a light stock.
On top of the vegetables we organized the fish carcasses in a flat manner, on top of which we put the lemon and the bouquet garni.
Why flat? Because the next step is the addition of the white wine and steaming it covered for 3 minutes, which will allow for a uniform steaming of the carcasses. This stage has the additional important role—steaming with wine also locks in the fish’s proteins, which will thus not muddle the stock.
Now we add the water—I was always taught that fish stock was differentiated from beef and poultry stock because hot water was used—I don’t really remember the reason, but if I recall correctly, it releases flavors more quickly—the hot water breaks apart the fish carcasses and releases the gelatin and other flavors more quickly (don’t hold me to my word here!).
The next step is cooking the mixture on low flame, uncovered—and this is true for an stock. Why? Chefs love eye contact with their stock because they are always afraid it will boil—boiling is the worst thing to happen to a stock…again, as you guessed, because it can muddle it.
Secondly, it is very important to skim the broth—again, as you guessed, so you can have a clear broth. Anyone who doesn’t care about that can skip the step.
After twenty minutes, smell the broth—it should have a quiet but wonderful aroma of fish.
Strain and preserve it for use.
The pictures below appear in the order in which they were prepared, and here is an explanation of each step.
Also In the pictures, you can see an additional optional step—I brought the stock to boiling, because it allowed me to remove the remains of the fat and proteins—other chefs prefer to chill it overnight in the refrigerator, because then the fat floats and it can be skimmed cold or strained.
Now all that remains is learning what to do with your fish stock, and here the sky is the limit.
I hope this helped!
Thanks for reading,