How to Make Shellfish Stock

Make your own shellfish stock with the shells from crabs, shrimp, and lobster. Homemade shellfish stock recipe with photos and step-by-step instructions.

  • Yield: Makes 2-3 quarts


  • 4-6 cups shellfish shells, from shrimp, lobster, and/or crab
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced or chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly sliced or chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly sliced or chopped
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Several sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10-15 whole peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons salt


1 Break up larger pieces of shell: Break thick shells (lobster or crab) into smaller pieces by putting in a sealed, thick plastic bag and either rolling with a rolling pin or hitting with a meat hammer to crush.

Cut up thinner shrimp shells with a chef's knife. Don't crush or cut too small. You can even skip this step if you want, if you are already dealing with broken up shell pieces (like cracked crab).

2 Roast shells (optional): Place in a large roasting pan and roast at 400°F for 10 minutes (this step you can skip, but it greatly enhances the flavor).


3 Cover shells with water and heat to not quite a simmer: Put the shells in a large stock pot and add enough water to cover the shells with an inch of water. Heat the water on high. As soon as you see that little bubbles are starting to come up to the surface, reduce the heat to medium.


Do not let the water boil! You want to maintain the temperature at just at the edge of a simmer (around 180°F), where the bubbles just occasionally come up to the surface.

Do not stir the shells! Stirring will muddy up the stock.

Skim the foam. As the bubbles come up to the surface a film of foam will develop on the surface. Use a large metal spoon to skim away this foam. Let the shells cook like this for about an hour; skim the foam every few minutes. The foam comes from shells releasing impurities as their temperature increases.

4 Add the wine, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, herbs, peppercorns: Once the stock has stopped releasing foam, add the wine, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, and peppercorns.

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Bring to a low simmer and reduce heat so that the stock continues to barely simmer, but not boil, for 30 minutes. If more foam comes to the surface, skim it off.


Add salt and remove from heat.

5 Strain through a lined sieve: Use tongs, a large slotted spoon, or a spider strainer to lift out and remove most of the solids from the stock. (Later put in a plastic bag and put outside in the trash! Shellfish shells have a way of stinking up a kitchen.)


Dampen a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a large, fine mesh strainer, over a large pot or bowl.

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Pour the stock into the strainer. Either use the stock right away, or cool for future use.

If you aren't going to use in a couple of days, freeze (remember to leave some headroom at the top of your freezer container for the liquid to expand as it freezes.)

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  • Lynn

    I save shrimp shells in a ziplock bag in the freezer until I have enough. Then I freeze the stock in 1/2 cup portions. I use it in recipes like seafood enchiladas and fish pies, and to make Asian noodle bowls. Really wish I had access to crab or lobster shells, too, but it comes out very tasty with just the shrimp.


  • Linda J

    How long would you cook this in a pressure cooker? I have an Instant Pot.

  • Christen

    Shrimping season is coming up and I am assuming that rather than wasting the heads I can use them to make stock?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Christen, sure you can use the heads for shrimp stock, or you can deep fry them and eat them, they’re great!

      • Christen

        I cringed a little at first when I read that. That being said, Id try it. I’d prefer to try them from an experienced shrimp head fryer for the first time though. But, I’ll definitely keep the heads from now on, at least for making stock. Thanks!

        • Elise Bauer

          My French partner insists on eating the shrimp heads whenever we are served whole shrimp. When they are deep fried they’re good! Though I’m not as adventurous as my sweetheart when it comes to eating the shrimp heads otherwise.

          • Expatriate

            Every American including myself always cringes at first when seeing that little shrimp head. But now I’m addicted to it especially the small shrimps. Big ones I still hesitate sometimes. The flavor difference is enormous due to the orange colored shrimp liver! Some people call it shrimp butter. Thw flavor is rich with an intense shrimp flavor.

  • Amber

    I made this the other day and had to freeze it to keep my family from drinking it all so I could save it for bisque when I have the right ingredients on hand. This tastes awesome all by itself!

  • Kim Gibbs

    Hi Elise, I have never made fish stock before and like the sound of your recipe. I have read a few of the comments regarding the recipe and see that you don’t use the innards but do you use the heads of the shellfish. I have been freezing the shells and heads and wasn’t sure to use them or not. Thank you.

  • Janyce Thompson

    Is it possible to pressure can the shellfish stock?

    • Elise Bauer

      I assume so, though I would recommend consulting a resource devoted to pressure canning for details.

  • Nyree

    I’m currently making the stock with snow crab shells, and there is almost no foam coming to the surface. Is this good or bad? I am making a batch triple the size as well, seeing as I just had a 15 person, all you can eat crab party and I had so many shells saved in the freezer. I am also wondering about the veggies. I am about to put them in the pot, but compared to your photo, there won’t be enough water to cover the veggies with just an inch of water above the shells. Any advice would make me very grateful. I want my first attempt at seafood stock to be a good one. Thank you!

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Nyree, sometimes I make stock and there is little foam, so not to worry. As for the water covering the veggies and shells, just try to dunk the veggies in the water so that they do get wet and cook.

  • Joe Fuller

    just made this with leftover prawn and bug shells, first time we have made stock, it is awesome, can’t wait to use it to make your bisque with Australian flathead n pour it in the bowl over cooked prawns. Thank you Joecool and Tracey. Have a great day

  • Heather

    I modified this for the slow cooker, which is how I make all my stock, simmering roasted lobster, crab and shrimp shells on low for the first four hours and addding the herbs, wine and veggies for the last four. It made a rich and delicious stock, and the best seafood chowder ever! Thanks for a great recipe!

  • Mary

    Noticed it posted a couple of times as a question, but do you include the “crab butter” and other innards in the stock? Also, does it sound ok to just freeze shells etc. until you have enough for stock? Sometimes just me, but don’t want to waste the shells. Thanks.

    I don’t include the innards, just the shells and any extra meat that might be hanging on to the shells. I often freeze the shells until I make stock. ~Elise

  • Juanita

    I was wondering if it is possible to make seafood stock with whole seafood, meaning seafood that’s not shelled.

    Yes, but why would you? You cook the heck out of the seafood making it pretty much inedible. And if you are dealing with something like a crab or fish, you still have to gut them. Better to eat or freeze the seafood meat, and use what you don’t eat, like fish heads and lobster shells, for stock. ~Elise


    making it now..what else is there to do during a hurricane? Smells wonderful and can’t wait to enjoy lobster And crab bisque tomorrow, Thank you for sharing this recipe. looking forward to it

  • Sylvia

    Hello, I came across your site last night looking for recipes that explained what to do with post lobster dinner shells. I decided to try your recipe and am almost done. I see that someone else asked a question regarding the innards and whether to include them in the simmering process but there is no reply. I decided not to as I envisioned them clouding up the stock. Was this the right decision?

    I only make it with the shells and the legs. Don’t know about the innards. ~Elise

  • Geoffrey

    Ive been saving water from steaming of shellfish for the purpose of making a stock. I freeze, than take out and use again to steam. I have done this 3 times so far. What do you think? Might it work as a good base for seafood stock? I just came across your post today. Guess I’ll start saving spent shells.

    Yes, it sounds like a great base for stock, all you need to do is strain out any sand or shell bits. ~Elise

  • Judith

    I am starting with raw shrimp shells (Maine shrimp are in season now). Do I roast the raw shells before using them to make stock?

    Yes, you do. But keep an eye on the shells in the oven. They might start to burn at 10 minutes, so check after 5 minutes. You want them dry and a pretty red color. ~Hank

  • Mary

    I’m a stock maker also; however, not seafood stock. It stinks up the house. Rather use a base for this one.

    • J. Messenger

      *TIP* Turn that stench into Heavenly aromatics by including some vegetables in the water. To do so, sweat sweet onion, half as much celery, some fennel, sweet red or other color pepper and garlic cloves (the last 30 seconds to minute) in some butter. Remove from heat. This will be added to the water when the wine and other vegetables are added. I like to finish mine with a little tarragon at the end of cooking.

  • Clarissa

    I made crab legs tonight and wanted to try making stock. I googled and found this recipe. It’s just about done, then it will go in the freezer for a rainy day. Thanks, the explanations were very thorough and helpful.

  • Gina Hardin

    What recipes do you use the crab shell stock in?

    Crab bisque or any seafood stew. ~Elise

  • Katharine Gates

    Hello, I was wondering… do you use all of the lobster’s leftover body, i.e. including all of the green stuff inside the body and other messy innards?

  • Craig Hatfield

    Ah, but the all the minor roles in a dish add up quickly and to great effect. Making stock does take time, but it’s the mother of everything and it’s where a great dish begins.

    I’ve found that boutique soup restaurants always have great stock on hand as it’s the basis of what they sell. The one I go to locally sells chicken, veal and fish stock for a paltry $13 a gallon. (!) I buy it all the time, usually reduce some into demi glace and fill ice cube trays with it, so I’ve always got it at the ready to bulk up dishes that need it.

  • Scottie

    Shell broth is indeed tasty, and flexible too, since you can use it in so many dishes. One suggestion I would make is broil the shells just prior to boiling. Just lay them out on a tray or iron skillet and put them under the broiler until they are just starting to darken. I think this really brings out the flavor!

  • Heidi

    I am thrilled to see this. I am the friend, as is my cousin, and Aunt Judy was making this stock at Aunt Bobby’s house on the island.

  • Caroline

    I was wondering– what makes homemade stock so much better than canned? I don’t think I’ve ever had homemade stock (of any kind), though I’m guessing there’s less salt and more flavor. Normally I make everything from scratch, but it seems like an awful lot of work to make an ingredient that will play a minor role in a dish.

    But I do love the thought of using the shells, which would otherwise be thrown out.

    Note from Elise: Oh, where to start? There really is no comparison. Homemade stock is so much better than anything you can buy canned or boxed. Once you’ve had a soup made from good homemade stock you will understand why people go to the trouble of making it.

  • Elise

    Hi Bea, actually, Aunt Judy is a friend’s aunt. I lived in Boston right after college and made lifelong friends there. If you used to work in Marblehead, you may have heard of Baker’s Island, the island I’m referencing. I love the New England coast in the summer, we have nothing like it here. You’re welcome for the recipe. Now in addition to chicken bones I’m saving shellfish bones. The stock is fabulous. Makes all the difference. Bon appetit!

  • Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

    Wow, you Americans impress me with all the relatives you have everywhere! I used to work in Marblehead and I am *just* in the middle of deveining prawns to make fish stock for a risotto. That is a coincidence! How appropriate to get to this post!! God I like Internet! Merci!