Love seafood? Learn the foundations of seafood flavoring using shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, mussels and fish to make stocks, bases and bouillon.

Seafood is not only healthy but amazingly delicious. I’m sure you already knew that. In this article, we’ll focus on seafood flavor basics, specifically stocks, bases and bouillons made from shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, mussels and fish. 

Stocks, bases and bouillon are flavor foundations and a chef’s “secret” ingredient in preparing soups, bisque, chowders, seafood boils, pasta and so much more. 

The goal of this article is to equip you with the why and how of when preparing seafood flavor stocks and bases. You can confidently understand the recipes AND impress your family, friends or your restaurant visitors by moving beyond the recipe(s) and developing your own custom seafood dishes.

Table of Contents

What are Seafood Stock, Bases, Broth and Bouillons?

Seafood stock is a flavorful liquid that is used as an ingredient for a variety of dishes. It is made by simmering aromatic vegetables and parts of an animal that would normally be discarded such as bones, fish heads, tails and shells. In other words, after a dinner of lobster, crab, shrimp or fish keep everything not eaten as it can be used to make a stock. 

Stocks can be made from a variety of fish and crustaceans. However, there are times when you want a specific flavor such as a lobster stock to make lobster bisque or a shrimp stock for ramen. One thing to note about stocks is they are either lightly seasoned or not at all. This is because it’s considered an ingredient and the seasoning should not be done until preparing the final dish.  

A seafood base is a concentrated stock that has been reduced by at least half. A base is used as an ingredient when the recipe doesn’t call for as much liquid such as when flavoring pasta, casseroles or creamier chowders. A base is generally lightly seasoned and has a richer flavor than the stock it came from, as it is more concentrated.  

Seafood broth is very similar to a stock; meat is added along with the bones, shells and vegetables. A broth is seasoned to perfection because often it is consumed on its own. In some cultures, a broth is traditionally served as part of the meal.  

A seafood bouillon is a concentrated broth. In other words, it’s a stock that has been seasoned and then reduced by simmering off the liquid until it is a thicker paste or even a cube or powder.

How Do You Make Seafood Stock and Base?

There are many different types of stocks and bases that can be made using seafood, such as fish, shrimp, lobster, crab or a combination of them all, simply called a seafood stock or base.  

The goal of a stock is to extract the nutrients and flavors and infuse the water with flavor. This is done by simmering. When making a beef stock, this process takes a minimum of 8 hours. However, as the seafood bones and shells are much thinner, it only takes between 45 minutes to 2 hours.  

A fish or shrimp stock needs to simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour maximum. A lobster or crab stock needs to simmer for around 1 to 2 hours, depending on the preference of the strength of the flavor. When making a seafood stock base, your simmer time depends on the main ingredient.  For example, when doing a seafood stock using more lobster than anything else, the simmering time needs to be a 2 hours max. However, if the main ingredient is fish but also includes lobster and/or crab, the simmering time is a 1-hour maximum.

Now that you know the simmering time, let’s talk further about the process.  Prepare the ingredients by washing everything. You do not want any veins, blood or gills amongst the ingredients. When working with shells of lobster and crab, you’ll want to spend a few moments crushing them into two to three-inch pieces.

Next, you are going to need some aromatic vegetables such as mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot). In a beef broth, I’d recommend course chopping, such as only quartering the vegetables. However, as seafood stocks simmer for a shorter time than beef, I recommend finely chopping everything to release as much of the nutrients and flavor as possible.

Once everything is ready, place everything on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil or melted butter, and heat in a 350°F oven until you see things beginning to change color. The shells will begin to pinken, and the vegetables will start to brown. This only takes a few minutes, so watch carefully.

Now, put everything in a large soup pot and deglaze the baking sheet with some white wine or brandy, and pour in the pot. Fill the pot with water until all the ingredients are covered by 2 to 3 inches of water and simmer. The warning here is not to boil and do not stir as that will cause the stock to cloud.   

While simmering, you will see a froth rise to the top. The froth is considered to contain imperfections, and you will want to grab a ladle or spoon to skim this out carefully. 

Once the time is up for simmering, strain the liquid, and what you have left is a seafood stock. To make a base, put the strained liquid back into the pot and continue to simmer until it has been reduced to half or more.  

To cool the stock or broth quickly, fill the sink with a few inches of water and add ice. Take the pot holding the liquid and place it in the sink; the ice water should reach at least halfway up the sides of the pot. Stir the stock until it’s been chilled to the desired temperature and add more ice as needed as it melts. 

Homemade seafood stocks and bases will last 4 to 5 days in the fridge.  They will last for months in the freezer. Place the stock in freezer bags, label with the name of stock, date and amount. Freeze the bags flat as that will give you the most room in the freezer. To add just a touch of seafood flavor to a recipe, try freezing the stock in ice cube trays first and then put it in freezer bags.

The Ingredients for Seafood Stocks and Bases

ow you know the general concept of how to make seafood stocks and bases. Let’s now dive further into the ingredients as there are many things that can make or break a good seafood stock and base. 

Quick Tip:

Anytime you have seafood leftovers, fish, shrimp, lobster, etc., place the items in a freezer bag and freeze them until you’re ready to make a seafood stock.

Fish Stock and Base

Not all fish should be used for fish stock. The best types of fish to use are mild-flavored white fish such as cod, halibut, tilapia, bass, grouper, haddock, walleye, perch, catfish and snapper. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and bluefish might leave you with a final fish stock that is overpowering.

The parts of the fish you can use are the skin, bones, head, tail and any leftover meat. What you don’t want to use are the guts, organs, veins or gills. Any blood will ruin the stock as it will cloud it and give it an “off-flavor.”  Before using any fish, make sure to rinse the fish of any slime or other impurities.

Shrimp Stock and Base

Shrimp heads, shells and tails are full of flavor and perfect for creating stocks and bases. Next time you prepare shrimp, set aside, and/or freeze these parts to later create a stock. Shrimp stock takes just 45 minutes to an hour of simmering and will give you a flavorful shrimp stock. Prior to the simmering, if the shells are raw, make sure to roast or heat the shells until they turn pink; this further enhances the flavor. 

Gumbo, jambalaya, Cajan food, cioppino and seafood risotto are just a few delicious dishes for which shrimp stock can be used.

Lobster Stock and Base

Lobster is fine dining at its best; however, after the meal, you’re left with a shell, claws, head and tail. These are the perfect ingredients for making a lobster stock and base. A lobster stock has a rich flavor and a red hue that it gets from the pigment of the shell.

Lobster stock takes 1 to 2 hours of simmering, depending on your taste preference. The result will give you a flavorful lobster stock. Recipes traditionally made with lobster stocks or bases are lobster bisque, seafood chowder, lobster linguini and risotto.

Clams and Mussels Juice

Mollusks, when cooked, release flavorful juices. It is this umami-rich juice that can be used as a flavoring ingredient or as a broth. The taste is similar to a fish sauce, just a much milder version. In other words, don’t discard the liquid used to cook clams and mussels, instead, freeze it for future use. It is also available to buy at the local grocery store, generally found in the canned meat section next to the tuna.

Have you ever sat down to a delicious plate of freshly steamed clams only to discover a mouth full of sand? The sand will not only ruin the meal, but it will also make the clam juice unusable. The secret to preparing clams and mussels is the pre-wash. It’s a bit of work, but it will save you from this experience and ensure clean clam and mussel juice for future dishes.

Start by giving the clams and/or mussels a salt bath. In a bowl, cover them with salt water and let them sit for 30 minutes. This encourages the clams and mussels to release any sand they might be holding onto. 

Next, scrub each one with a brush and rinse them thoroughly. Nope, not quite done, follow that up with a salt scrub. Dump salt on the clams and mussels and further scrub the shells, rinse and repeat the salt scrub two more times. As I said, it’s a lot of work but it will ensure not only the clams and mussels are sand-free, but it also ensures the flavorful juice is clean and usable.   

When making stocks and bases, some people will use the discarded clam and mussel shells but these shells don’t break down as easily as crustacean shells and don’t add as much flavor. What we like to do instead, is simply add a healthy splash of clam or mussel juice to the stock after it is done simmering and has been strained.

Vegetables Herbs and Seasoning

Every stock, no matter if it is beef, chicken or seafood, calls for vegetables.  Vegetables add flavor, aroma, color and nutrients to stocks and bases.  Onions, celery and carrots are the traditional vegetables added. Tomato paste has also become a staple as it gives a sweet flavor and increases the acidity which further aides in extracting the flavor. Lemons are also used for this purpose with seafood stocks.

Learn more about vegetables used in stocks here.

Where To Buy Seafood Stocks and Bases

Not everyone has the time to make stocks and bases. The grocery store has a variety of seafood stocks and bases for home cooking, usually found in the soup aisle. We suggest the brand Better Than Bouillon®. It offers a Fish Base, Clam Base and Lobster Base. These bases are considered by many home chefs as the highest quality option and we agree. 

If you’re in the food industry, you wll need larger quantities with excellent flavor and quality, backed up by a strong service-oriented company. You might even need or want a signature flavor to set you apart. This is where Summit Hill Foods comes in. We offer delicious seafood flavor bases available direct or through a distributor. 

Here is a list of the seafood flavors we offer.  See our product catalog.  

  • Pran Pho Broth Concentrate
  • Fish Base
  • Shrimp Base
  • Lobster Base 
  • Lobsterpoix
  • Clarified Lobster Stock Concentrate
  • Clam Base
  • Clam Base Concentrate
  • Five Star Clam Base
  • Five Star Lobster Base
  • Premium Fish Base
  • Custom Flavor Development

We have a team of chefs, food scientists and culinary experts here to assist you in developing signature flavors. To get started in creating a unique flavor, contact us here.