Classic Shellfish Stock According to Three Greats

By Mieke

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.

A word on prawns

I used to make this dish with just any old prawns. But there are a lot of problems with how prawns are farmed. Prawn farming produces huge quantities of greenhouse gases and support abusive labor practices. So check where your prawns are from and how they are produced. If you can’t find any sustainably sources and humanly farmed prawns consider not making this recipe at all.

Classic shellfish stock - McGee, Escoffier and Henderson

Dorothy Porker
A spectacular, well-researched punchy shellfish stock, based on the findings of food legends Harold McGee, Escoffier and Fergus Henderson.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Course Supplies
Cuisine English, French
Servings 1 liter


  • Plastic bag
  • Rolling Pin
  • Large pot with lid
  • Fine sieve


  • remains of 20 large prawns or similar, less won't do
  • 2 T - 30 ml olive oil
  • 1 oz - 20 gr carrot finely diced- fennel is also nice
  • 1 oz - 20 gr onion finely diced
  • 4 c - 1 liter water
  • 1/4 c - 50 ml white wine
  • 1 oz - 20 gr parsley stems and leaves
  • 1 rind of Parmesan optional, you can save rinds in the freezer as well
  • 2 t - 10 gr salt
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 4 white peppercorns black peppercorns will work too


A note on my leftovers

  • My prawn shells were pre-cooked. I’d gotten fresh large prawns the week prior, marinated them briefly in olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, parsley and some chipotle flakes before grilling them for about 2-3 minutes on each side and digging in. All this added additional flavor and heat.

To make classic shellfish stock

  • 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.
  • Heat a 2 T - 30 ml of olive oil in a large pot. Add 1 oz - 20 gr of finely chopped carrot and onion each 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 4 c - 1 l of water, 1/4 c - 50 ml wine, 1 ounce - 20 gr of parsley, the Parmesan rind (if using), 2 t - 10 gr salt and 1/2 a bay leaf, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and leave to simmer gently for 1 ½-2 hours, lid off. Add 4 white peppercorns 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  • 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.


Shellfish stock keeps for about 4-6 months in the freezer.
If you want to be even more frugal with your leftovers, be sure to save any leftover cubed 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.
Keyword bouillon, broth, leftovers, shellfish, stock

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