Into Something Rich and Strange IV: Three Takes on Umami-Rich Seafood Stocks

Yes, I’m the weird girl at the restaurant who scarfs down a lobster dinner and then, when the waitress is about to clear away my empty plate, says, “Look, I know this is odd, but can I please get a box for the shells? I make stock out of it.”

Seafood stock, like bone broth, is a unique mix of of seemingly strange ingredients, a devotion to wasting nothing, and a rich result. Whether you’re saving fish heads, bones, and shells, or making use of dried or fermented seafood ingredients, the components that go into seafood stock are a study in economical cooking and making sure everything gets used, even if at a much later date than the ingredient first walked (or swam) this earth. In fact, some food cultures take this practice extremely seriously: as Namiko Chen (the blogger behind JustOneCookbook) explains, when a Japanese kitchen cooks up a pot of dashi (stock), the solids don’t simply get discarded. In restaurants, where large batches are made, after making the stock the first time (ichiban) chefs will reserve the kombu and katsuobushi to make a second, more delicately flavored batch (niban dashi), which is perfect for use in simmered foods (nimono) and miso soup. In normal households, these second-use ingredients are reincarnated as furikake (rice seasoning) and kombu tsukudani (simmered kombu). There’s a lesson to be learned in the way in which these ingredients are treated with enough respect to merit second lives.

There are many kinds of cuisine that employ an umami-rich stock as their base around the world, but the ones I know best and have come to obsess over hail from Eastern Asia. (This is not to say that the West doesn’t have its own amazing takes on seafood stock.) In spite of the fact that most of these stocks draw their flavor from either fish or kelp, they’re super versatile because their flavor is intense, but not super fishy. They are the core of soups and stews, but in other dishes where their presence is less obvious, as Chef Eric Ripert observes, they are “invisible, but [bring] more depth.” Anchovy stock is a staple in Korean cooking, as you’ll see if you open up any book of authentic Korean recipes, whether that recipe is for kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) or for tteokbokki (fried rice cakes). Japanese dashi relies on the dried kelp known as kombu, which has been used in daily Japanese cookery at least as far back as the Edo period. There are a lot of overlapping ingredients in the recipes for East Asian umami-rich stocks—for example, Korean anchovy stock also often includes kombu and Japanese dashi often includes anchovies—but slight differences in ingredient choices and what flavors are more forward make them distinctive. For instance, dashi traditionally includes katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and may also feature shiitake, which are distinctly Japanese and set the stock apart from a simpler anchovy one. Dashi has a deeply savory flavor, but there is also a subtle sweetness to it, and it’s used as a seasoning liquid in dishes like tamagoyaki and takoyaki in addition to functioning as the broth base for noodle soup dishes, shabu shabu, and nikujaga.

Yet outside of Asia, too, seafood stocks are key to soups and stews, rice dishes, and more. Think of seafood risotto or jambalaya. Or of bouillabaisse and its close cousin cioppino, fishermen’s stews in which fish and shellfish swim in a broth of their own juices. The thick southern stew we know and love as gumbo has descended to us from the African thieboudienne. Both gumbo and thieboudienne utilize either reserved (crab claws, shrimp shells, etc.) or preserved (dried fish, fermented mollusks, etc.) forms of seafood to achieve their amazing flavor. Also, both frequently mix fish and meat together (think of Andouille sausage and shrimp, or in the Senegalese version, lamb and fermented snail). For this reason, I offer here my recipe for meat and seafood stock for use in dishes like these. If you want a pure seafood stock, a recipe for that is available here.


Meat and Seafood Stock

Ingredients:

A full or partial gallon bag of beef bones reserved in the freezer for the purpose

A full gallon bag of fish heads, fish bones, shellfish shells, etc. reserved in the freezer for the purpose

4 onions, cut into quarters

4 celery stalks, rough chopped

2 carrots, rough chopped

2 bay leaves

1 head of garlic, sliced in half horizontally

1 TBSP dried parsley

5 whole cloves

1 TBSP dried thyme

Enough water to cover the solids in the pot

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425F. Dump the bag of beef bones and vegetables onto one parchment-lined sheet tray, and the seafood leftovers onto another. Roast the beef bones and vegetables for about 20 minutes total, toss the bones, and add the tray of seafood leftovers. Continue to roast for 10-15 minutes, until the shells are dried and the ingredients are taking on some brown color.

Once both sets of sheet trays are out of the oven, put the ingredients from the sheet tray and all remaining ingredients except the roasted seafood leftovers into a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for several hours—at least one, but up to three or more, adding water if necessary. For the last 20 minutes that you intend to simmer the stock, add the seafood leftovers—they don’t need to cook very long, and in fact can become bitter if they cook for more time.

Let the stock cool a bit until it’s safe to handle, then strain and discard the solids. 


Dashi

Adapted from JustOneCookbook’s Awase Dashi

Ingredients:

1 (8”x8”) sheet kombu (gently wiped clean with a damp cloth, if necessary—aim to remove only sand and grit, not the white powder that is a big part of its flavor)

3 dried shiitake mushrooms (optional)

8 cups water

1 cup katsuobushi

Instructions:

Add the kombu and shiitake and water to the stockpot and either allow to soak for about 3 hours, or turn the heat to medium-low and slowly bring to just under the boiling point (this should take around 10 minutes. Remove the kombu (reserve for other uses). Add the katsuobushi and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 seconds, the turn off the heat; let it steep for 10 minutes, then strain the stock (reserve the katsuobushi for other uses).


Anchovy Stock

Adapted from Korean Bapsang’s Anchovy Stock

Ingredients:

12 large dried anchovies (heads and guts removed, if the fish are larger)

2 cups daikon, diced

1 (8”x8”) sheet kombu (gently wiped clean with a damp cloth, if necessary—aim to remove only sand and grit, not the white powder that is a big part of its flavor)

1 small onion, rough chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

8 cups cold water

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to a large stockpot and allow to soak for at least 20 minutes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high, and cook for 10 minutes. Strain and discard the solids.

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