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Monday, 13 June 2016

The grey mullet - a flexible fish popular the world over but perhaps underrated in the UK.

The grey mullet (whole fish) is a new visitor to the icy shores of the Tesco fish counter. It is a fairly large fish with equally large scales and very popular with our Chinese customers. It appears to be a popular part of their cuisine where fish is involved. This is where most of our sales have come from – with an occasional sale to the English customers. It looks similar to a larger version of our £3 sea bass – with a softer belly- and on average our grey mullet have been costing the customers somewhere between £5 and £6. Tesco source their grey mullet as a wild fish caught by trawler, gill nets or similar nets.

I purchased one the other day and decided to get out the barbecue. Crazy I know! Just for once it was sunny weather and the thin dried branches from some local pine trees smelled great as I got the BBQ fired up. I cut the fish into chunky bone in steaks to be cooked flesh down. They took about ten minutes on the barbecue and I turned them three or four times – always keeping the skin away from the direct heat and bars. Being so thin the skin on any fish will burn if sat directly on the bbq.

As it turned out I cooked it alongside some lamb cutlets cut from a French trimmed rack of lamb. In the end I decided to eat the delicious mullet with a few mixed olives and feta cheese and the lamb chops with a few cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese that I happened to have in the fridge.

The cooked grey mullet had a distinctive almost earthy flavour that I personally liked but I have read that it is not universally loved. The BBC Food website claims that the earthy taste of the fish can be can be reduced by 'the addition of robust and lightly acidulated sauces, dressings and marinades featuring lemon, white wine, vinegar, capers and garlic.' It also adds that grey mullet roe is a delicacy smoked and is traditionally used in taramasalata.

The chef Raymond Blanc is a keen advocate of using this fish to make an excellent fish soup. He includes a pinch of saffron powder, five bruised garlic cloves, five sprigs of fresh thyme, carrot, a fennel bulb and some black pepper in his recipe. Chef Simon Rimmer loves grey mullet with yoghurt potatoes. My mates the Si and Dave – The Hairy Bikers – suggest the usage of grey mullet fillets as an ingredient in their recipe for a seafood pearl barley paella.

Mitch Tonks – in his excellent book 'Fish – the complete fish & seafood companion' has a great recipe for grey mullet with mussels, roasted garlic and oregano and a separate recipe for baked grey mullet with dill and brandy. He is not alone in his grey mullet enthusiasms and it seems that there are plenty of recipes out there to try. Mitch also enthuses on the website that his first experience of ginger with steamed fish (mullet) was in a local Chinese restaurant in his youth. He suggests that grey mullet is an underrated fish and can often be found at a very reasonable price on one's fishmonger's slab. He proposes that when buying grey mullet that you ask the fishmonger if the fish was sea caught or from an estuary. Estuarine fish have a slightly muddier flavour than those caught out at sea. Either way they are both good and not to be missed when in prime fresh condition.

In life the fish itself prefers brackish coastal waters and lagoons with varying salinity. The are common throughout the Mediterranean and along the northwestern coast of the Black Sea. They are also found in the eastern Atlantic, from Southern Norway to South Africa. They are a common summer visitor to southern British shores, sometimes extending into the North Sea.

For those interested the grey mullet has a variety of international names.

UK: Thin-lipped grey mullet (also thick-lipped)
France: Mulet porc
Greece: Mavráki
Portugal: Tainha
Spain: Morragute
Italy: (Cefalo) Botolo
Germany: Dünnlippige Meeräsche

Incidentally, the lamb rack cutlets were perfectly cooked and easily regulated on the gently heated periphery of the barbeque cooking rack. With both the grey mullet and the lamb chops there were some bones to negotiate (deal with) but that is part of the barbeque experience, non

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