Simple Shellfish Stock

Since I will be making a Cioppino for tomorrow’s dinner and need some nice stock to make a base for the soup, I thought I’d do a separate post to illustrate the process for you as it is a good culinary technique to develop.

If you eat a fair amount of shellfish, you should really get into the habit of saving the shells rather than throwing them away, as they contain a lot of flavor that would otherwise be wasted. Whenever I peel shrimp, or have lobster or crab as part of a meal, I put the shells into a container in the freezer and let them accumulate until I have enough for a stock. In plenty of recipes you will see things like bottled clam juice used as an ingredient, but a nice stock made from leftover shells, and also the melt water and liquor thrown off by different shellfish, will add a richer and more complex depth to your finished dish…

Generally, my accumulations are pretty much shrimp shells since we eat quite a lot of them, but, this time, we have a lot of lobster shells as well (which is not a bad thing by any means). In this case, my stock base includes not only lobster shells from a few previous meals, but also those from the ones I purchased to use for my Cioppino.

The Method

There are different ways to make a shellfish stock, and, if you are going to be using the result for a clear soup, the process can be somewhat involved. We will look at that in a future post sometime, but for thick stews and tomato based soups, clarity is less of a concern. I am going to use this batch to make Cioppino so a simple, slightly cruder preparation is just fine.

Basically, all you need to is put the shells you have accumulated in a pot of water so that they are covered by at least an inch, or so of liquid. Bring the pot to a low boil and then turn down the heat to a light simmer and leave it for 2 or 3 hours. Not much in the seasoning is necessary at this point, as you will be doing this when the stock is used later, but a pinch or two of salt is a good idea. For this batch, I actually used about a half teaspoon of Korean Salted Shrimp, as this adds an interesting depth, but if you don’t have this, plain salt is just fine.

During the process, a slightly ‘dirty’ foam will collect on the surface and this will need to be slimmed off from time to time. Again, this is less critical than when you are making a stock for a clear soup, or the like, but it is a good practice at any time and you should cultivate the habit.

Finally, you will need to strain the stock to remove the solids. A good fine mesh strainer is fine but, if you really want to do a good job, some cheesecloth is useful. For this experiment, though, such niceties are not that critical…

When the stock cools a little you should taste it for strength and, if it is a little anemic, you can reduce it over high heat until the flavor develops a bit better. Be careful of this though, as you don’t want to be too aggressive. A very strong stock might be appropriate for some uses, but, really, it should be fairly delicate…

Anyway, with this batch of shells, I ended up with well over a quart of a nice light stock. I’ll only need 3 cups or so for my Cioppino, but, thankfully, the stock freezes well so I’ll have plenty on hand for other uses…


  1. Nice technique. People under appreciate stocks. A good shellfish stock can make all of the difference in the world in a gumbo, ciopinno, shrimp/lobster/crawfish bisque, crawfish pie, and a myriad of seafood sauces. It’s what takes an ordinary meal to the level of extraordinary. They also freeze well. Personally, I generally don’t salt my stocks because whatever preparation I am going to use them in will have their own salt requirements. You can always add more salt but you can never take away. 😉

    1. That’s a good rule of thumb generally, especially large batches… for small amounts like this I usually don’t have any problems.

  2. We had to forage and make fish stock when we went out eat to Nova Scotia on our honeymoon 7 years ago. Bears ate our food in the tree lol we foraged for mussels and clams ….not the best to make soup out of but when your broke in love and want to eat you will pretty much try anything once. The clams were great, steamed with garlic butter and wine…the stock afterward not so much, i think you need the thiner shelled fish to produce the best flavor live and learn i guess…. look forward to the soup…

  3. Shellfish stock is fabulous. I love using it for another one of my signature dishes, shrimp and porcini risotto! But, I never thought of saving the shells. Will be getting a bigger fridge so I think I will be doing that so I always have them handy, thanks for the tip!

    1. I usually have a good enough size batch to use every two or three months of collecting.

  4. I completely agree on thr importance of good stock, also for risotto. Great that you are specifying what is not needed if you don’t need the stock to be completely clear; I often see recipes with lots of complicated steps that aren’t needed if you are using it for a cream or tomato based sauce anyway…

    I find it boosts the flavor with shrimp shells to saute them in oil first. Also with soft shell crustaceans like shrimp, it pays off to squeeze the heads to get out all the juice when straining,

    1. I usually do saute … just about all the shells here were already cooked though. I *would* love to be able to get shrimp with the heads…. very rare here 🙁

      1. I noticed this in the US also. Perhaps people are freaked out when the heads are still on?

  5. I’m sure you will make every drop of that stock count. How was the lobster? Was it expensive at your end? Or did wife get a deal?

    1. About $25 for 2 lobster.. and frozen at that. Bit more than I used to pay in New Brunswick!

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