Dorothy Porker – foodblog

Shellfish Stock according to Legends

I’m trying to be more fastidious with my scraps, so after I’d grilled a bunch of prawns recently, I set the shells aside in my freezer to make stock. I also want to make better use of the unreasonable amount of cookbooks that I own, so when I was in the mood for risotto earlier this week, I stuck my nose into a stack of books to find advice on making stock.

Fish stock basics according to Harold McGee and Escoffier

Most of my books were more focused on making fish stock, and the main advice seems to kind of be: don’t.

As Harold McGee explains it, you don’t add fish to your stock until the very end. Fish collagen has such a low melting point you can extract it into the broth at a very low temperature in a very short time. Cook it any longer and your broth will turn murky from the calcium dissolving from the fish bones. So what both he and Escoffier recommend is making a so-called court-bouillon (a very quick and basic broth) and then adding the fish once it’s cooled down to 80 degrees Celsius or so before briefly poaching the fish.

Where McGee and Escoffier differ, is that the former advises you to add the peppercorns at the very end, to avoid bitterness, while the latter is more of a ‘chuck it all in there’ kinda guy.

Shellfish stock according to Fergus Henderson

But I didn’t even have any fish bones to begin with. I went to my market to find som but I get there too early and had zero patience. So I decided to go for it anyway, with the remains of 10 or so large prawn and a few pointers from the legendary Fergus Henderson. He basically recommends you smash your shells before use. So that’s what I did. And the result was rather wonderful.

The below will make you about a liter of shellfish stock. It combines Escoffier’s recipe for a white wine court-bouillon, McGee’s insights into when to add the peppercorns and Fergus’ advice on how to treat a shell to make a really nice stock. He does also add tomatoes, but I was like nah. I’ll let you know how I got on with my risotto next week.

Shellfish Stock

A spectacular and well researched punchy shellfish stock, based on the findings of food legends Harold McGee, Escoffier and Fergus Henderson.
Prep Time15 hrs
Cook Time2 hrs
Course: Fish
Cuisine: French
Keyword: bouillon, broth, leftovers, shellfish, stock
Servings: 1 liter


  • 1 l water
  • 50 ml white wine
  • 10 gr salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 20 gr finely chopped carrot
  • 20 gr finely chopped onion
  • 20 gr parsley stems and leaves
  • Parmesan rind optional
  • remains of roughly 10 large prawns or other shellfish remains
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 4 white peppercorns


  • Place your shellfish remains in a bag and smash them with a rolling pin. You can omit the bag, but even with the bag there was stuff flying everywhere, so use a bag.
  • Note: my prawn shells were pre-cooked. I’d gotten fresh large prawns a week before, marinated them briefly in olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, parsley and some chipotle flakes before grilling them on a hot stove in about 2-3 minutes on each side and digging in. All this added additional flavor and heat. Now, back to the stock.
  • Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a hot heavy bottomed large pot. Add the finely chopped carrot and onion and cook on a low heat until softened but not browned.
  • Now add the smashed prawn shells and stir until you, as Fergus calls it, “Smell splendid shellfish things.”
  • Add the water, wine, salt, parsley, Parmesan rind and bay leaf and leave to gently simmer for 1 ½-2 hours, lid off. Add peppercorns 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time to avoid bitterness.
  • Full disclosure: I only simmered mine for about 45 minutes because I was hungry, but I made up for it by plonking my stock directly into a risotto.
  • Strain your stock through a fine sieve, making sure you crush every last drop of liquid out of your shells and veggies before discarding them. Hey presto: sexy sexy shellfish stock.


Shellfish stock keeps for about 4-6 months in the freezer. 
Additional notes: I forget who it was, but someone else recommended omitting the carrot and using fennel instead, more so when using fish, to avoid adding color by way of carrot, which I think would be great if I hadn’t already gotten a carrot and if fennel wasn’t so bloody expensive. But chop ‘m if you got ‘m.
If you want to be more frugal with your leftovers, be sure to save any leftover carrot and onion in your freezer, which is something I forgot.
UPDATE Augustus 13th 2019: After sharing this recipe local hero Noah Tucker commented that white peppercorn works slightly better with fish and shellfish so I've adjusted the recipe accordingly. 


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