Fish Heads in My Stock Pot

This post may contain affiliate links for companies I trust and/or purchase from myself. This means I make a small commission from your purchase. While this does not change your price, it does garner my heartfelt thanks. Read our full disclosure here.

When I first heard about making fish stock my thought was, “Eww. Who wants to drink fish-flavored water?” But upon reading further I discovered that it wasn’t just the ‘fish’ you used, but the ‘fish head’.

Trust me. I didn’t think I’d swoon from the temptation of it.

But, as I’ve learned from experience, give me a good argument about a food’s health benefits and, while I may not swoon, I’ll certainly cheer.

Today, if you were to walk past my stock pot and glance inside, you might gasp at the beady little eyes staring back at you. But don’t worry, the only thing our fishy friend is going to do in there is make one of the best, nourishing stocks known to man.

Why Fish Head Stock?

Stocks in general are very healthy for you, but fish head stock sits a little higher on the pedestal. It’s the most nutritious, easiest on the budget, and holds claim to benefits other stocks can’t.

Like thyroid glands and iodine.

What Does The Thyroid Gland Do?

Not only is fish head stock rich in fat-soluble vitamins, it also contains the all-important thyroid gland. Basically, when you simmer a fish head the thyroid gland disintegrates and becomes part of your stock.


Thyroid glands supply the thyroid hormone whose main purpose in life is to run the body’s metabolism. This might not seem like much to get worked up about – until you don’t have enough of it. :)

Symptoms of Thyroid Deficiency

Most of us know someone affected by thyroid deficiency (hypothyroidism), and the havoc it can cause:

-abnormal menstrual cycles
-bone loss
-chronic fatigue
-coarse, dry hair
-cold and flu symptoms
-cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
-decreased libido
-dry, rough pale skin
-fat retention
-hair loss
-inability to concentrate
-irregular menstrual cycles
-memory loss
-low metabolism
-muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
-weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight


“Fish broth will cure anything.”
(South American proverb)

What’s the Big Deal about Iodine?

Iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism walk hand in hand. Iodine is required by the thyroid gland to produce various hormones (particularly those related to metabolism). So all of the symptoms listed above are related to iodine deficiency as well.

Iodine & Heart Disease
Iodine deficiency is also linked to heart disease and cancer. For instance, Japanese men have only 65% of the risk a man in the U.S. has of developing cardiovascular disease. The risk for a Japanese woman is 80% less than an American woman.

One of the biggest factors to this is diet. Japanese eat more seafood and far less grains than Americans do. Daily consumption of iodine is roughly 5,000 to 12,000 micrograms a day in Japan while here in the U.S. it’s only 125 to 250. That’s a BIG difference!

A Women’s Need For Iodine
Another place iodine concentration is found is the breast. The incident of breast cancer in the US is the highest in the world. Japan is one of the lowest. (International Agency for Research on Cancer)

Studies have shown that when iodine increases, breast cancer decreases. 3 to 5 milligrams daily can relieve the signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease in 70% of cases. In the 1960’s iodine consumption was double what it is today. Only 1 in 20 women developed breast cancer back then. Today it is 1 in 8.

Iodine also improves ovulation rates in cases of Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOV).

Fish Stock = Gelatin
Add to all this the fact that fish stock also supplies gelatin and I might start a cheer:

“Fish head, fish head, you’re our man! If you can’t do it, no one can!”

Okay, fine. I was never a cheerleader. Something about really short skirts and having to stand in front of people. . .

Gelatin is a digestive aid. It’s been used successfully to treat intestinal disorders, including hyperacidity, colitis, and Crohn’s disease. It’s also being used to treat chronic disorders like anaemia (and other diseases of the blood), diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and cancer.

So now that you’ve stuck with me this long, you’re probably itching to get out your stock pot and find out how to make this medical marvel, right? I’m so glad you asked!

Fish Stock (casein-free, egg-free, gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free, yeast-free, anti-candida, low-carb)

*3-4 whole carcasses, including heads, of non-oily fish such as sole, turbot, rockfish or snapper (around here I find halibut at Whole Foods)
2 T. butter
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
several sprigs fresh thyme (I’ve used dried)
several sprigs parsley (I’ve used dried)
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
3 qts. water

*Nourishing Traditions notes: Ideally, fish stock is made from the bones of sole or turbot. In Europe, you can buy these fish on the bone. The fish monger skins and filets the fish for you, giving you the filets for your evening meal and the bones for making the stock and final sauce. Unfortunately, in America sole arrives at the fish market preboned. But snapper, rock fish and other non-oily fish work equally well; and a good fish merchant will save the carcasses for you if you ask him. As he normally throws these carcasses away, he shouldn’t charge you for them. Be sure to take the heads as well as the body. Classic cooking texts advise against using oily fish such as salmon for making broth, probably because highly unsaturated fish oils become rancid during the long cooking process.


1. Melt butter in a large stainless steel pot. Saute vegetables just until they’re soft. Add white wine and bring to a boil.

2. Add the fish carcasses (head and body) and cover with water. Add the vinegar and bring it to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the top. Now you can go ahead and add the thyme and parsley to the pot.

3. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for at least 4 hours or as long as 24 hours.

4. Strain the liquid and store in pint-sized jars or containers. Store in fridge or freezer. Be sure to label your stocks as they all look the same. :)

5. Pick the meat away from the bones (it will just fall off by this time) and refrigerate or freeze it to add to your soup later or use it like you would canned tuna fish.

This recipe is low-carb if you remove the vegetables rather than pureeing them in. Depending on what you put in your stock, the average net carbs is 1g – 2.5g per cup.

How Do I Use Fish Stock?

I like to heat up some stock, add some veggies and left over fish, and slurp it on a cold, winter day. (Slurping not required.) You can also warm it up and sip it from a mug since sipping is more dignified.

Recently, I’ve been using fish stock to make Homemade Ketchup. Any way you eat it, it’s going to give you health benefits that will make you want to wear pigtails and wave your pom-poms madly in the air.

And guess what? It’s not fishy at all – it’s DELICIOUS!

P.S. What’s in your stock pot? Or do you prefer chicken stock/broth?

Don’t know where to purchase some of these ingredients? Visit our Whole Food Sources page.

Shared with: It’s A Keeper, The Girl Creative, The Healthy Home Economist, The Prairie Homestead, Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms, Skip to My Lou, Simply Sugar & Gluten Free, Time-Warp Wife, Real Food Forager, Chef In Training, Rook No. 17, Celebrating Family, Far Above Rubies, Vintage Wannabee, Premeditated Leftovers, Women Living Well, Blue Cricket Designs, The King’s Court IV, Frugally Sustainable, The Gluten-Free Homemaker, Milk & Cuddles, We Are That Family, The Thrifty Home, This Chicks Cooks, Raising Homemakers, Tip Junkie, Juliecache, GNOWFGLINS, Greenbacks Gal, Raising Mighty Arrows, Our Simple Country Life, The Nourishing Gourmet, Food Renegade, Real Food Whole Health, Little Natural Cottage, Real Food Freaks, Comfy In The Kitchen, Country Momma Cooks, Nourishing Treasures, The Modest Mom, Flour Me With Love, Pain-Free Pregnancy, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Growing Home, Food Corner, The Nourishing Gourmet, Deep Roots at Home, Our Simple Farm, Young Living Oil Lady,

photo credit:
Paul /

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
I’m Paula - like many of you I wear a lot of hats. Child of God, wife of 18 years, mother of five, reluctant cook, full-time teacher, chocolate-snatcher, and children's author. Various family health issues including Lyme disease and candida has turned me into a 'researcher'. I don't have initials after my name, a degree in anything but motherhood, or a framed certificate on my wall. What I do have is a passion for understanding how our God-created bodies thrive or deteriorate based on what we put in it. Oh, and I also might mention homesteading, homeschooling, fitness, herbs, faith, and anything else I'm thinking about. . . like wow, I need to refill my tea. . .


  1. says

    love love this … I make chicken and beef stock all week long.. and I have frozen fish bodies .. but I never could pin down how long I should simmer for… I know the chicken and beef like to be left as long as you can… but the fish…well I just didn't know.
    such a lost art.
    thanks for the help!

  2. Heather says

    Very interesting! I have never made my own fish stock, we unfortunately don't eat a lot of fish because my husband isn't a fan. I make my own vegetable broth, which I posted about here I will typically make a large batch and then freeze it. And when I get a chicken from the farmers' market, I always make chicken stock, same with the Thanksgiving turkey :-) I will have to try this though!

  3. says

    Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting I've been thinking about fish stock! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

    Share your great fermented food recipes at my Probiotic Food Linky – open through Februray 6, 2012.

  4. melanie says

    Love the detailed photos! I made fish stock for the first time last week and loved it! My mother-in-law makes a delicious Greek fish soup with a homemade fish stock that is out of this world. Next time I want to try getting the heads, the fish market only gave me to carcasses.

  5. France@beyondthepeel says

    Hi Paula. Thanks for adding all the good bits about why. I think thats' that part that helps me the most to stay on track with our whole food eating habits. I have yet to make fish stock at home, but the next time we have fish around, i'll have this bookmarked for reference.
    I'm hosting Whole Food Wednesdays at beyondthepeel. I hope you'll swing by and maybe even join in! Have a great week.

  6. Jen the CraftinCowgirl says

    Interesting things I did not know about! My husband fishes alot during the summer and my dad ice fishes. I will do some research to see if the fish they catch would be good for stock! Anything they've ever caught has ended up in the garden for fertilizer after it was cleaned and filleted. They usually catch Northern/Pike, Catfish, Bluegill, Crappie, Bass, Walleye…

  7. simply heidi says

    I'll have to think on this one for awhile… I love the benefits, but I'm not sure I'll love the flavor. I'll probably try it, but this is one I'll have to ease in to.
    In other news, I now have "Fish heads, fish heads, rolly-polly fish heads. Fish heads, fish heads, eat 'em up, yum!" stuck in my head.

  8. April @ The 21st Century Housewife says

    This is such an interesting and informative post! I've never made my own fish stock from scratch, but you've certainly inspired me! Thank you for sharing this post with the Hearth and Soul hop.

  9. Paula says

    Hi Kristi,

    Thanks for the invite! I shared it on your current carnival today. You have some very good info on your site – good health during pregnancy is so important!

  10. Bamboo says

    I recently made shrimp broth and thought I really wouldn't like the flavor in anything but you couldn't taste or even smell it in the rice I made with it. So, I'm thinking that the fish broth is not as "fishy" tasting as one would think, right?

    I've been wanting to do this for a loooong time but always get confused at the store and walk out without any fish.

    One of my childhood food memories is scooping around the beady-eyed fish head in the soup turin to serve myself on beach trips. Too bad I had such a big "ewww" factor in my youth and didn't appreciate nutrient dense food!

  11. Paula says

    Bamboo – No, fish broth is definitely not as 'fishy' tasting as it sounds. I put off making it for years, too scared by the thought of a fishy-smelling house followed by fish-flavored food.

    I was pleasantly surprised at how mild-smelling it was during the making of the broth, and even happier to realize it tasted wonderful and hardly had a fishy taste at all when I cooked with it.

    I've never tried making shrimp broth, but if you're looking for fish I'd recommend the non-oily ones like non-oily fish such as sole, turbot, rockfish, snapper, or halibut.

  12. Lea H @ Nourishing Treasures says

    Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures' Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back later tonight when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! :)

  13. suzyhomemaker says

    This has been on my to do list for a long time. Thanks for the great pictures. Maybe I will be motivated now to move it up to the top of the list.

  14. Pamela says

    Wonder if this could be a husband chore? :-) I remember the first time I saw a fish head. My uncle had been fishing, brought them home and cut off their heads. I think it scarred me for life. Ha! Seriously, thank your for sharing this. I can't wait to try it.

  15. nichole says

    im trying fish stock for the firt time this week. I usually dont eat fish. Will the stock taste fishy???


    • says


      I was worried about the taste too, but I was pleasantly surprised at how mild-smelling it was while it was cooking, and even happier when I tasted it. It hardly had a fishy taste at all – I actually prefer this to chicken broth.

  16. says

    Hello there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask.

    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog
    post or vice-versa? My blog discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each
    other. If you’re interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Much appreciated!

  17. Cody says

    Why non-oily fish, or will any fish work? i am just wondering if i can use fish that i catch here in MN. Sunny’s, Blue Gill, Walleye, Bass, Bullheads? thanks for the help!

    • says

      The only reasoning I’ve found is in Nourishing Traditions, “Classic cooking texts advise against using oily fish such as salmon for making broth, probably because highly unsaturated fish oils become rancid during the long cooking process.”

      Notice she says probably.

      Being from the land of 10,000 lakes myself, I’ve come up with this list of low-oil fish – a few should be familiar to you: walleye, cod, flounder, halibut, haddock, grouper, pike, whiting, pollack, cole, catfish, flounder, and sea bass.

  18. e fischel says

    A note if caution about adding thyroid meat to your diet. Hyperthyroudism (too MUCH thyroid hormone) can make you sicker than hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone). It can also caused goiter, a massively inflamed thyroid gland. This condition used to be common.The cause? Butchers were using a technique called gulleting to remove neck meat from cattle and pigs for cheap hamburger and sausage meat. Since the thyroud gland is indistinguishable from muscle meat, a lot of thyroid meat got into the nation’s cheap-meat supply. Children and the elderly were the most affected by hyperthyroidism from eating this meat. This butchering technique was banned in tge 1950s and goiter and hyperthyroidism all but disappeared. But recently, a lot of health food advocates have been touting the benefits of thyroid meat and/or iodine, and hyperthyroidism is making a come back. So please remember that too much thyroid hormone is just as bad and often worse than too little. The thyroid only needs a speck if iodine daily to be perfectly healthy.

  19. Anna says

    Thanks for the informative post! I made fish stock from a cod head, and last week from the head of a grey snapper I think, but my stock does taste fishy. I let it simmer together with parsley, onion, and celery, for about four hours. In the beginning of the boil, I scoop out the broth. Would you know what maybe I am doing differently, and what I could do to make it taste less fishy?
    Thanks already!

    • says

      Hi Anna,

      I took my recipe and info from Nourishing Traditions. The author never mentions snapper – perhaps that has a fishier taste? Also, she does mention putting it in the fridge and removing any congealed fat before freezing. Did you leave the fat in it? Perhaps the fishiness is from that. . . those would be my first guesses. :)

We'd love to hear from you! Please leave a courteous comment below (this doesn't mean you have to agree, just be kind in your response). Comments that use foul language, or are rude and obnoxious will be removed.