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Waste not, want broth: Alaska businesses aim to turn fish bones into trendy broth

Hipsters and Paleo diet enthusiasts around the country are embracing bone broth, drinking it up like coffee and hoping it might cure whatever ails them.

And in Alaska, Alaska Broth Co. founder David Chessik hopes people will embrace his fishy version of it.

"Every place has its drink," Chessik said in a phone interview last week. "Really, this broth will some day, some day be thought of as Alaskan coffee."

Chessik's claim is bold but he's not completely alone. His is just one of the local companies taking up broth as a business in the last year.

Chessik, an attorney, commercial fisherman and owner of Alaska Island Retreat lodge on Cook Inlet's Kalgin Island, has made broth at his home for years. He decided to start commercially producing this summer, first in Kasilof and later with Copper River Seafoods in Anchorage this fall. His products include halibut and salmon broth.

Chessik claims that since he started drinking the broth, usually at breakfast, his health has improved significantly. He says the broth can help with weight loss, clear up skin rashes and grow thicker fingernails.

Much of that he credits to the presence of collagen protein in the broth. The collagen in the fish bones renders into the broth, not only thickening it, but also offering a convenient way for people to consume the protein.


But whether the broth has any significant nutritional benefits is up for debate.

Diane Peck, public health nutritionist for the state's obesity prevention and control program, said there's a lot of good research on the benefits of bone broth, but there's also plenty dispelling the "miraculous properties people are claiming."

Peck said that fish broth tends to have more protein and calcium than traditional mammal bone broth, though it's usually not as high as manufacturers claim.

"They still aren't anywhere near meeting the requirements we need for a day," she said.

But Peck said broth has benefits: It's good for hydration and can be low in calories if the fat is skimmed off. She warned that people should be careful about sodium, since some broths have a lot of it.

Chessik declined to share details on how his broth is made or how much he produces at one time. He said the broth is made from the fish carcasses left over from Alaska salmon and halibut, though he wouldn't specify where in the state the fish are from.

And while the broth is made with parts of the fish that would usually be discarded, he's hesitant to call the bones "fish waste."

"I would like to take the word fish waste out of our vocabulary and throw it away forever," he said, "until we recognize that all of this is valuable part of the fish."

Out of the trash

Alaska Black Cod owner Rich Clarke, however, embraces the term. Clarke started making stock a few weeks ago with leftover black cod carcasses.

Clarke owns a small processing plant in his East Anchorage backyard, where he processes hundreds of pounds of black cod, halibut and salmon each week. The black cod, also known as sablefish, is sourced from commercial fishermen in Seward. Most of it ends up fileted, smoked and flash-frozen for sale at The Mall at Sears' Central Market. Before, all his bones went in the trash.

But fellow market vendor Karl Reed, chef and owner of La Grassa pasta, suggested Clarke consider making a broth.

Clarke, who formerly ran the custom smoking line at Indian Valley Meats, decided to give it a try. He now makes a French-style clear "fumet" broth he sells as "sablefish stock."

His recipe is simple. He uses one black cod back bone per quart of water, some onions, celery, lemon, bay leaves and yellow carrots. After bringing it to a boil, he lets it simmer for about three hours before straining and packaging.

Clarke's stock is oiler and meatier that the Copper River version, with tiny chunks of black cod suspended in the liquid.

He uses it for a variety of dishes, adding a little fish flavor to everything from soups to stir-fries. Clarke doesn't put salt in his stock but he suggested it could be added and consumed plain.

Clarke sells his broth for $10 a quart. The Copper River broth retails online for $33.95 for two 24-ounce packages.

Peck said that making broth at home is cheap and relatively simple. It can be healthier too, with most home-cooked broth containing more protein.


Clarke said he's considering selling the black cod bones at the market for those wanting to make their own broth.

"It takes my bones that were being thrown out and makes some dollars for me," he said.

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.