Thursday, 6 October 2011

Red Mullet

Back in the day, we thought a mullet was a haircut. Nowadays, we know it’s a fish; a fish that is becoming more common on UK fish slabs.

We need to change our fish-eating habits. Cod stocks are depleted and switching to whiting, mackerel, coley and other sustainably-fished species is desirable. However, there is another change coming: global climate change.

A recent report by marine biologists concluded that global warming will lead to profound changes in the populations of common fish species in the waters off the UK. Rising sea temperatures will adversely impact cold-water species such as cod, haddock and pollock. The good news is that the study demonstrated responses to warming in 72% of common species, with three times more species increasing in abundance than declining. The study is supported by recent data from actual catches. Red mullet, hake and dab are among the species that are now being caught more frequently in British waters.

It is therefore a good time to look out some recipes for red mullet and other warmer-water species. You will not find them in British seafood cookery books; you have to look to Mediterranean cuisine.

Red mullet or surmullets are actually two species of goatfish (Mullus barbatus and Mullus surmuletus), which are unrelated to grey mullet. They have been eaten in the Mediterranean since Roman times, when they were reared in pools (an early example of fish-farming).

The Silver Spoon, Italy’s best-selling cookbook, has the following recipes for red mullet: with fennel, Livorno-style, with herbs, and with beans. The book advises that red mullet be touched as little as possible, since the tender flesh breaks up easily.

On Monday, I had Red Mullet with Anchovies and Herb Crème Fraiche, cooked by guest chef Shaun Hill, at ffresh in Cardiff Bay (see October 4 blog). It is a pretty pink fish, with delicately flavoured white flesh. On that occasion it was cooked to perfection.

I was going to cook red mullet tonight, but didn’t manage to get hold of any (rather undermining the thrust of today's post!). However, I did cook sea bass; briefly under a hot grill and then roasted with fennel seeds, lemon and a splash of wine, and served with ratatouille and some apple smoked sourdough made by Geraint here in Dinas Powys. The fennel seeds inside the fish cavity imparted a pleasing flavour.

Continental Shelf-Wide Response of a Fish Assemblage to Rapid Warming of the Sea. Stephen D. Simpson, Simon Jennings, Mark P. Johnson, Julia L. Blanchard, Pieter-Jan Schön, David W. Sims, and Martin J. Genner. Current Biology, 15 Sept 2011.

The Silver Spoon. English Edition. Phaidon Press. 2005.

A previous post on tilapia:

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