Restraint is the key to this recipe. The stock cooks only 30 minutes and care spent on it will repay you with clear, well-flavoured soups and sauces. Fish bones for stock are usually free and vary in suitability. Haddock, hake, halibut, monk, sole, turbot and whiting are good. Mediocre results will be obtained from bass, mullet, plaice and salmon, while herring, mackerel and other oily fish are poor choices.
Wash the bones in cold water and remove any traces of blood. Cut the bones into manageable lengths.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or stock pot and gently fry the chopped vegetables. Add the fish bones and cook for 3–4 minutes, turning them over, until they no longer smell raw.
Pour on the wine, then add 2 litres (3½ pints/8¾ cups) of water and the peppercorns. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the stock to settle for a further 10 minutes before straining.
The main variant is shellfish stock, which obviously calls for shellfish, and whole shell-on prawns or shrimp are ideal used in conjunction with the fish bones mentioned. Usually some stronger ingredient like tomato passata (sieved tomatoes) or chilli is added.
Mussels produce wonderful stock, good for soup and sauces alike. Follow the recipe above but fry the chopped onion before adding mussels rather than fish bones, then some white wine and water. You can eat the cooked mussels with a little salad dressing later.
© 2000 Shaun Hill. All rights reserved.