An underrated fish with clean and sweet-tasting flesh
“The grey mullet is an interesting species of fish to cook with. There are two types of the same species: the ocean-going, and the inshore—and there are distinct differences,” says Borough Market demonstration chef and passionate seafood chef Luke Robinson. “The ocean-going variety can grow quite large—well over two kilos. These have golden spots on the belly and around the gills. The inshore fish are smaller, generally weighing less than a kilo. The differences are entirely down to what they eat. For me, a good, fresh ocean-going one is like a sea bass, but both varieties are very underrated.”
Luke admits that grey mullet has a reputation for being a bit muddy, “but that is unfair. While this can be the case, it only applies to inshore grey mullet and not even to all of them. It really depends on the waters they were swimming in—if they are clear, they get a good clean diet and the fish is fantastic.” Paul from Sussex Fish agrees: “Among the shoppers here at Borough Market, grey mullet is a good seller. The people who shop here are very knowledgeable about their fish. The grey mullet we get are from both inshore and further out. As a general rule, they come further inshore when the weather warms up.”
“I regularly buy grey mullet from Paul and they are fantastic, with a wonderfully clean, slightly sweet flavour,” Luke says. “The flesh is nice and firm. If you are looking for ways to cook it, you can generally use it in any recipe that calls for sea bass and it will work really well.” One suggestion Luke has makes use of that firm flesh to make a carpaccio: “This is great if you can get some really fresh fish from Paul. It is a great dish to have now that we are finally beginning to emerge from winter,” he says with more than a hint of excitement. “Fillet and skin the fish, then slice the flesh finely. There is a wonderful Peruvian marinade called leche de tigre, or tiger's milk, which would work wonderfully with this fish.”
The tiger’s milk
Blend together some celery, red onions, a little ginger and garlic, then add some sliced chillies, a handful of coriander and enough freshly squeezed lime juice to allow you to cover the slices of fish. “Leave the mixture for five minutes, then pass it through a sieve and you have the tiger’s milk. Drop in the fish for a couple of minutes, so the acidity and the chilli flavours can get into the fish, and you are done. It is a lovely, light way to eat this fish.”
Luke adds if you are doing this with wild grey mullet, it is good practice to freeze the fish for a day. If you defrost it slowly overnight in the fridge, the flesh will keep its firm texture. If you are using farmed mullet, however, there is no need. “If you have a lovely big fillet, one way I cook it is with a twist on a salt crust using 400g flour, 500g rock and sea salt, egg white, and some herbs,” Luke reveals.
Take the salt and flour and blitz it with a selection of different herbs like parsley, thyme, sage and a little rosemary in a blender. Pour the seasoned flour on to a board and add just enough egg white to bring it into a dough. Roll the dough out until it is about two millimetres thick, place the fillet on one side and fold the other half over the top so you have a parcel. Put the parcel into an oven at 200C for between six to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the fillet. When it is done, take it out of the parcel and serve.
Simple but tasty
“I like cooking it this way because it keeps all the moisture and flavour in the fish, while seasoning it with the salt and herbs in the dough,” Luke enthuses. “I would serve it with some very simple vegetables. I like serving it with sliced garlic mixed with chopped chilli, and a bit of olive oil. They are both really simple but tasty dishes, and a great way to try this fish for the first time.”