There are some things that just MAKE a recipe, am I right? If you’re missing them then the dish just doesn’t come out quite the way it should.
Fish stock, or fumet, can be one of those things, especially if you’re making a seafood-based dish like chowder, paella, lobster bisque, or bouillabaisse. It provides a unique savory taste that helps to reinforce the other flavors of a seafood dish.
There is just one problem though. Fish stock isn’t as easy to find as its “stock brethren” like chicken stock, vegetable stock, and beef stock. Perhaps you’re worried that you won’t be able to add that je ne sais quoi to your dish because your local supermarket doesn’t carry it.
Don’t fret! There are great alternatives available. In this article I’ll tell you what the best fish stock substitutes are. I’ll also take a look at why fish stock is important as well as the differences between stock and broth.
Why is Fish Stock Important
As I mentioned, fish stock can add that certain something to a dish, particularly for seafood dishes.
A well-made fish stock doesn’t have a strong fishy taste to it. Instead, its job should be to reinforce the other seafood flavors in the dish. This can be the difference between a good dish and a GREAT one.
In addition to providing a flavor punch, fish stock and broth also has a list of health benefits. It’s a great source of calcium, iodine, various minerals, and omega-3s. Filled with flavor and healthy – it’s the best of both worlds!
Fish Stock vs Fish Broth
The terms “stock” and “broth” are often mistakenly used interchangeably.
Whilst they’re both liquids derived from vegetables, meat, or fish, there are in fact some distinctions between the two. What separates them the most is how they’re made, and what they’re used for. Broth is usually eaten on its own, whilst stock is typically incorporated into another dish.
Fish stock is made by utilizing more parts of the fish like the head and bones whilst broth only uses the meat to get its flavor.
The added seasonings are also a bit different. Fish broth is typically seasoned for the purpose of eating on its own, so may include a few more seasonings. On the other hand, fish stock generally only uses a bit of salt and pepper, or occasionally a bit of white wine.
Lastly, the appearance will also likely be different. The bones that are used in the fish stock give it a more cloudy appearance, compared to the clear broth.
Best Fish Stock Substitutes
There are a few reasons that you likely will need a fish stock substitute.
Maybe you forgot to buy it. Perhaps you have a fish allergy. Maybe you just can’t find it in your local grocery store and don’t want to make it yourself (totally understandable by the way, handling fish heads? No thanks!)
Or, perhaps, you’re vegan or vegetarian and don’t partake in anything animal-based.
Whatever the reason, I have you covered. Here are the best fish stock substitutes that I’ve found.
Bottled Clam Juice
This is my favorite, and go-to fish stock substitute. The reason is that is the closest thing to perfectly replacing it.
You can pretty much substitute it directly in the same quantity. The glutamates in the clams give it the same flavor-enhancing qualities as fish stock. However, the concentration can vary slightly.
There are a couple of different ways to use clam juice as a fish stock substitute.
My favorite is adding half a vegetable bouillon cube to 2-3 bottles of clam juice (the exact amount depends on how much stock you need). To get the best results, boil the liquid down 25% (so that 75% of it remains).
The other method, which is faster and lighter is using vegetable, beef, or chicken bouillon and mixing equal parts bouillon to clam juice. And then there you have it! Either way will give you a super tasty replacement for fish stock!
Substitution Ratio: 1 cup of clam juice mixture equals 1 cup fish stock
This is perhaps one of the easiest substitutes as chicken stock or bouillon is one of the most common pantry staples that you’re likely already have.
The convenience factor is a big one for me, which is why I use this substitute most frequently. However, it’s not as good if it’s used by itself.
To get the same effect as fish stock you should mix 1 part prepared chicken stock to 1 part water. Use this ratio to total the amount of fish stock that you need. The reason for adding the extra part water to the stock is because chicken stock is typically very salty.
Substitution Ratio: 1 cup prepared chicken stock (½ cup stock, ½ cup water) equals 1 cup fish stock
Another common pantry item that you can use is beef stock.
However, this doesn’t have as similar a taste to fish stock as the aforementioned chicken stock mixture does. So, while it can work, it will alter the flavor of the dish.
If you use it, make sure to dilute it with some water to lessen the impact it has on the dish. The substitution ratio of the resulting liquid should be the same as the required fish stock.
Substitution Ratio: 1 cup beef stock to 1 cup fish stock. But because it has the potential to overpower the dish, taste the dish as you add it.
Takumi Stock Powder
Now that we have gone over my favorite substitute and also the most convenient ones, let’s get into a couple of fish stock substitutes that are not as likely to be hanging out in your pantry but are great, tasty substitutes nonetheless.
Takumi stock powder is a Japanese stock powder that is made from mushrooms and kelp. I like this one because it gives a great seafood flavor like fish stock but the mushrooms and kelp in it give it a deep flavor.
A great alternative if you happen to see it in your local grocery store or Asian market.
Substitution Ratio: After you prepare it as it calls for on the package, you can use it in the same ratio as you would fish stock 1:1
Dashi is a Japanese fish stock (if you didn’t know already, the Japanese love seafood) that is a great alternative to the US versions of fish stock.
Since it’s a fish stock of sorts, it already provides the same qualities as the more familiar versions but just with a slightly different taste.
It doesn’t have as much of a seafood taste as clam juice and it adds a bit of a smoky sort of flavor that can really enhance your dish.
Substitution Ratio: Once prepared, you can use it in the same ratio as you would other fish stock. 1:1
Best Vegan Fish Stock Substitutes
If you are a vegan, fret not! I also have some great substitutes for you as well.
Vegan or not, vegetable bouillon cubes or liquid vegetable stock are also a very common thing to have around the kitchen as many dishes from soups to curries can call for it.
They can be a great substitute if you don’t have anything else but you won’t be getting much of the ocean flavor. You can add a bit of extra sea salt to get more of it, but it won’t quite be the same. For convenience’s sake, though, this is a great option.
Substitution Ratio: substitute 1 cup of vegetable stock with added salt for 1 cup of fish stock
Wakame Seaweed Stock
The last two substitutes we are exploring are taking us back to the island nation of Japan (surprise, surprise).
Wakame is a type of seaweed with a similar taste to kombu (a kelp variety) that when turned into a stock makes for a great fish stock substitute as it provides a nice flavor reminiscent of the ocean. It’s very salty, however. Make sure to taste it to ensure it’s not too strong for your dish as fish stock is usually more subtle.
Wakame Seaweed stock can be difficult to find in supermarkets or even Asian markets so you may need to make it yourself or order it online.
Substitution Ratio: Use in the same ratio (1:1) as fish stock. But due to its saltiness, you may want to use less or dilute it, taste it as you add it to not overpower the dish.
Fish-Free Dashi Broth
This version is almost identical to the non-vegan version, just without the bonito fish flakes. As a result the flavor resembles its counterpart but with a slightly less fishy flavor.
This version isn’t so easy to find in the store but it’s available online. It’s also very easy to make and only requires a few ingredients.
Substitution Ratio: Substitute for fish stock equally, 1 cup fish-free dashi for 1 cup fish stock. However, for this and the other Japanese alternatives, you may want to taste it as you add it to avoid making a dish that isn’t suitable for your taste.