Red mullet, escabeche

Red mullet, escabeche

Finding Fire

Incorrectly classed in the UK as mullet, red mullet is actually a member of the goatfish family and a favoured part of the Mediterranean diet. I worked with red mullet for years in Europe and it was only when I came to Australia, where they are often sold under the Greek nomenclature barbounia, that I realised the fish was not a true mullet. They were so valued in ancient Rome that they sold for their weight in silver. Though small, red mullet has a sweet and delicately flavoured flesh, and fine oil running under the skin that crisps up beautifully on the grill.

In this recipe, the escabeche refers to the pickled vegetables; the acidity completes the cooking of the mullet as it comes off the grill. The vibrant combination provides a taste of sunshine no matter what the weather.


Quantity Ingredient
8 red mullet
zest and juice of 8 oranges
zest and juice of 2 limes
1 lemongrass stem, bruised and chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 bunch baby carrots, peeled and finely sliced
3 baby fennel bulbs, outer layers peeled and finely sliced
sea salt
4 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
100ml olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
1/2 bunch fennel fronds, picked
1 head fennel flowers


  1. 1. Prepare your embers.
  2. 2. Scale and gut the fish, and remove the gills. Rinse quickly and dry well.
  3. 3. Butterfly the fish. Use a sharp knife to make an incision along the skin on the back of the fish to one side of the dorsal fin. Following this line, run the knife horizontally from the head to the tail, going halfway to the backbone. Move the knife through to the underside of the fish, then run the knife along the whole fillet. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side.
  4. 4. With a pair of scissors, carefully cut the backbone free behind the head and in front of the tail. This will enable you to easily remove the backbone while retaining the head and tail, which hold the fish together during grilling.
  5. 5. Trim the belly. Locate the bones running along the middle of the top half of the fillet and carefully remove them using tweezers.
  6. 6. Prepare the escabeche vegetables. In a small saucepan, combine the zest and juice of the oranges and limes, the lemongrass and the fennel seeds. Bring to the boil and simmer until reduced to approximately 200 ml (7 floz) of liquid. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and, while warm, pour over the sliced carrots and fennel. Leave for 40 minutes to macerate.
  7. 7. Season the flesh of the fish with sea salt, and grill in an enclosed grill rack over intense embers for 2 minutes, skin side down, until beautifully caramelised.
  8. 8. Meanwhile, drain the carrot and fennel (reserving the liquid) and grill for 2 minutes with the spring onions until lightly charred. Season, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with half of the fresh fennel fronds.
  9. 9. Transfer the fish to a clean tray, add the reserved escabeche liquid and allow to rest for 1 minute, during which time the acidity will finish cooking the fish.
  10. 10. Gently heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and pour it over the red mullet. Strain all the liquid back into the saucepan, whisking continuously and allowing a light emulsion to form.
  11. 11. Place the pickled and grilled vegetables on a plate, top with the fish and pour the emulsion over. Finish with the remaining fresh fennel fronds and the flowers. Serve immediately.
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