Red mullet seems an unlikely fish for British waters. It isn’t just the exoticism of its iridescent pink-red skin. The flavour, too, is unusual. It has richer flesh than many white fish and is almost more reminiscent of shellfish – not surprising, perhaps, as these and crustaceans form a large part of its diet.
It’s worth snapping up if you come across it on the fishmonger’s slab. It’s sometimes cooked with its liver left in – a delicacy if you aren’t squeamish about such things. Either way, it can take quite punchy flavours, like the ones I’ve given you here.
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 red mullet (350g each), cleaned and scaled
Juice of ½ lemon
salt and pepper
4 sprigs thyme
For the sauce
¼-½ preserved lemon (or 1 if they’re the small ping-pong ball ones)
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp paprika
A pinch of cayenne
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 ripe medium tomatoes, halved, seeds and core removed
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more if needed
2 big handfuls chopped coriander leaves
1 handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
Slash the fish three times on each side with a sharp knife, season inside and out with salt and pepper and put a sprig of thyme in each cavity. Rub a couple of baking sheets with oil and place the fish on them.
Squeeze the lemon over the top, rubbing it well into the slashes, then leave the fish to one side for a few minutes while you make the sauce. Set the grill to high and let it preheat.
For the sauce: scoop out and discard the pips and pulp from the preserved lemon. Chop the peel into tiny pieces and put them in a bowl with the cumin, paprika, cayenne, garlic and oil. Cut the tomato flesh into strips, then into small cubes and stir into the oil mixture. Put to one side.
Place the fish under the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes each side, until the skin has crisped and the flesh is cooked through.
While they’re cooking, add the lemon juice to the tomato mixture, then stir in the coriander and parsley. Taste and season. You may not need much salt, depending on the saltiness of your preserved lemon. Add a squeeze more lemon, too, if you feel it’s needed.
To serve, arrange the fish on a serving dish or plates and splash the dressing over the top.