Thai Style Fish Stock


It’s funny how a trip to the grocery store can change a meal plan.

After taking some chunky halibut fillets out of the freezer on Friday evening, I had decided to go with something relatively simple for Saturday–herb crusted pan seared halibut with a light cream sauce–but a trip into the bowels of Vancouver’s old China town, changed things up pretty quick. I rarely make the trip into down town Vancouver,  but my daughter had some work to pick up at the artist supply shop on the edge of China town and I decided to come along.

My first stop was South Seas Market, 265 East Hastings, to replenish my stock of lime leaves. This market stocks almost every Thai product that the aspiring foodie could desire. While there, I couldn’t resist picking up some fresh galangal root, Thai holy basil, a few mukrut (kaffir) limes, a couple of large containers of sambal oelek, and of course a large bag of lime leaves.

Next stop was the venerable Sunrise Grocery on Powel and Gore. Sunrise Grocery has been supplying the immediate area’s inhabitants and restaurants with cheap fresh local and imported ingredients for well over 50 years. I stocked up on incredibly inexpensive huge bags of bok choy, small orange and red bell peppers, pineapples, mangos, strawberries, and of course tofu (produced by the store’s owners under their Sunrise brand). In fact I went a bit overboard in my shopping spree and ended up dividing the spoils with my friends and neighbours.

Once home I realized that my original menu was out the door. I couldn’t bear to leave these fresh ingredients for a single day. Having made a Thai yellow curry only a few days before I opted for a clear Thai fish soup accompanied by a pineapple/pepper sweet and sour and Thai scented rice. Scanning my books and online sources for soup recipes, I found that almost all called for the inclusion of Asian chicken stock–unfortunately absent from my pantry. Faced with a crucial missing ingredient, I opted to wing it (happens a lot, I’m afraid).

Recipe: Thai Style Fish Stock:

  • 1 Medium Spanish or Red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbs Canola oil (or other flavourless light oil)
  • 4 Cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1″ Piece of ginger, minced
  • 1-1 1/2″ Piece fresh galangal root, grated
  • Fish bones for stock
  • 1 Tbs Fish sauce
  • Water to cover ingredients
  • 1 tsp brown or palm sugar
  • 4 Lime leaves, torn
  • 1 tsp Cumin seed
  • 2 tsp Coriander seed
  • 1 tsp Shrimp paste (optional)
  • 1-4 Red Thai chillies, chopped or 1 Tbs sambal oeleck
  • Salt to taste


  1. In a wok over add oil and saute onions until lightly browned medium-high heat
  2. Add garlic and stirfry until very lightly browned
  3. Add cumin and coriander seed and ginger and stirfry for a minute or two
  4. Add galangal root, chilies (or sambal oeleck), and shrimp paste and stirfry for another minute or two
  5. Add fish sauce to deglaze the pan
  6. Add fish bones and continue to stirfry for another minute or two
  7. Add torn lime leaves and sugar
  8. Add water to cover all the ingredients and bring to a slow simmer for 20 minutes (do not boil)
  9. Add salt and/or fish sauce to adjust the salt level
  10. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a heat proof container

Notes: Please be aware that this is the recipe for a stock and not a soup as such. It serves as a base for soups sauces or curries. I didn’t use lemon grass (one thing I forgot on my shopping trip) but you could add a stalk or two of the chopped and lightly crushed lemon grass along with the galangal in step 4. I used a salmon head for the bones, but any fish bone sections will do. Do not boil the bones, as the stock will become cloudy and a little thickened. If you are making soup you will need to add a little acid (lime juice or palm vinegar) to balance the sweet and salty stock before serving.