I made fish stock a week ago. It was my first go at the process, an ostensibly simple one: Procure fish carcasses from a local monger, strip them of any wayward flesh, roast the bones for 20 minutes, simmer them in water for 60. Strain, then store. I was unworried.
It was all a little messier than I expected (remember to line your pans with parchment when roasting any bones to keep them from gluing and glomming onto your baking sheets). After the pans were scrubbed and the trash cans carried out of the house, the problem appeared: a pervasive and lingering stench so awful I was convinced fish guts had spilled somewhere unnoticed and now sat, festering and turning my home into an uninhabitable swamp of filth.
Throughout the week that followed, my life’s purpose became ridding our house of the smell. It was formidable and mysterious. I Swiffered more than I’ve ever Swiffered in my life (though that’s not saying a lot). I frantically texted Sarah for guidance. I convinced myself my roommates would kick me out, deeming me unfit to use our kitchen ever again.
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The good news is, a full week later, the smell is mostly gone; there’s still a lingering whiff you get when you first walk up our stairs, but I’ve come to greet it like a mischievous pet: annoying but harmless.
Here’s a summary of what I did, and which strategies I think actually worked. If this happens to you, know that you’re not alone! And it might take some time. Apparently this is just a thing that happens, but people keep cooking fish anyways?
Here’s what I did:
Swiffer: This worked to convince me that there weren’t fish guts sitting around on the floor and to add a nice chemical-clean smell to the milieu. Definitely recommend.
Opening the windows: 100% necessary, though not completely successful since we don’t have a lot of windows in our common area and there isn’t great circulation.
Putting on a fan to circulate air: 100% necessary, possibly the most effective long-term strategy I found. Kept it on for two days straight, despite the fact that I was also wearing sweaters for two days straight.
Scrubbing greasy walls and surfaces: This is secretly essential; fish smells get trapped easily in grease, like those splatters on the wall near your stove. I used a rough sponge because I was worried that steel wool would be too aggressive.
Setting out a bowl of coffee grounds: tried this the first night; woke up convinced it had worked; left the house and came back and realized it hadn’t. Jury’s still out on this one.
Rubbing the sink and cooking surfaces with a cut lemon half: This was the only thing that succeeded in getting the stench out of the roasting pans I’d used.
Swiffering five more times: Not really sure this helped the original problem, but it helped my psyche.
Keeping a candle lit every single minute I was in the house: Though I’m not sure this got rid of any smells, it did cover them up successfully, so much so that I felt like I could invite people into my home. Stock up.
Burning sage: Didn’t really work, but did get all the bad spirits out of my home.
There are other things I could have tried, like simmering a lemon peel in water, or simmering baking spices, or baking cookies until my arms fell off. I’d say patience is the most important tool here, as well as trust that your problem will, at some point, go away.