When I make fish in a soup(no ingredients, just water, salt and fish) I notice the soup water tastes bitter/unpleasent and I stop eating it. This can happen with any fish - it's the same taste and smell.

Sometimes when I cook whitebait from from frozen(which was apparently frozen at sea) that too can get this nasty smell. I've recently been buying line caught mackeral which isnt old and it doesnt usually have the same problem(above smell and taste doesn't occur), note I usually eat it within 2-3 days. However the other day on the second day I boiled the mackerel for a while and the same stink and taste happened. I imagine the prolonged boiling caused the issue to prop up. On the 3rd day from the same batch of mackerel I didnt overcook the mackeral and the smell didnt come. This tells me it may be something in the way i'm cooking which is causing the issue.

Do you know what it might be and how I can prevent it? Are frozen or small fish more likely to have this problem and if so why?

Do you know what the smel//taste might be and how I can prevent it? I especially notice it consistently appear when I cooked sardines, whitebait, anchovies and other small fish though mackerel can get it as in the example I gave.


  • Everything you're saying sounds like it's just run-of-the-mill overcooked fish smell. Are you looking for something besides "don't cook it so long"?
    – Cascabel
    Feb 17, 2017 at 1:33
  • well i'm not sure what the cause is, is it caused by overcooking because on some days i dont think i overcooked it yet would still later get this issue. could it be some other factor? if it is overcooking, is it that heat causes accelerated oxidation of fish? Feb 17, 2017 at 6:00
  • Apart from overcooking, have you tried adding more (and more) salt? Feb 17, 2017 at 8:50
  • @BaffledCook what would be the point of adding more and more salt? Is it to mask the smell? I don't want to mask it, I want to prevent ot from coming altogether. Feb 17, 2017 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


Start with a fish stock instead of water. Cook that with whatever vegetables you want to put in it, add seasoning and get the broth to the flavor that you want.

During the last 3 - 4 minutes of cooking, add your cut fish and just allow it to poach in the broth for a minute or two, cut the heat, let it sit for a few to finish poaching gently, then serve.

It sounds like you're trying to extract flavor from the fish as you cook it, that's not going to work, you'll just overcook the fish which is what's giving you that awful taste.

Fish stock is made from the very gelatinous bones of the fish, skin, scales, heads, etc - then strained. You can buy it in most grocery stores, just read the label to see how much sodium it contains (go for the least amount, add salt yourself).

  • 1
    Or start with a vegetable stock. Also, you can make your own fish/vegetable stock. Feb 17, 2017 at 8:50
  • @BaffledCook Yup, or even a light miso broth :) As long as you get flavor in there before the fish. And yes, home made stocks are best (you avoid all kinds of interesting additives like yeast extracts and such).
    – user293
    Feb 17, 2017 at 13:28
  • i have found that its very difficult to seperate fish meat from bones. i mean even if you cook and remove the meat, little pieces of flesh are still attached to the bone. won't thw flesh in the small amounts of flesh in the fish stock get overcooked leading to the same smell.ad taste in liquid or is it thought the bad taste will be in too small amounts to get noticed? Feb 17, 2017 at 19:07
  • @JamesWilson That tiny amount if the fish is filleted properly will very quickly rise to the top where it can and should be skimmed off using a ladle or a spoon. Additionally, many fish have "cheeks" which are delicious and not tossed into the stock pot. You can use a vegetable stock as a base to start (a mirepoix, but consider leaving the skins on). If you're just starting out, a store bought fish or vegetable stock should work quite well.
    – user293
    Feb 17, 2017 at 19:23

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