I really believe that all good food starts with the shopping and for any decent Chef; the starting point of any new dish is always the ingredients. Great chefs will think endlessly about their appearance, aroma, texture and flavour.
Only when you understand and respect the essence of an ingredient can you properly come to enhance its flavour through cooking. Seasonality is important too and the seasons and their differences are simply part of the experience of life. If you eat frozen green peas throughout the winter, where is the pleasure when the first young peas appear in the spring?
I always head straight for the fish stalls whenever I enter a local market. It’s undoubtedly the easiest place to spot the signs of freshness and quality, as it’s almost impossible to disguise super-fresh seafood. So what are the signs to look for when shopping for fish? First of all, fresh fish should never smell strongly but have a faint aroma of the sea.
It should look appetizing with clear, bright eyes and a shiny vivid skin. The flesh should always be firm and adhere firmly to the bone. The gills should be a bright red or startling pink colour and the fins and tails should be clearly defined and undamaged. This week I saw some really beautiful red mullet in the market and I just had to buy some.
“Salmonetes” as they are known in Spain are astonishing fish to look at due to their unique bright red skin. They are also full of flavour in part due to their high fat content. They suit simple cooking methods particularly well – just make sure not to overcook the fish as the flesh will go from deliciously moist to very dry in a matter of seconds.
No matter how you prepare the fish, make sure you hold on to the livers, as these are a real delicacy and are beautiful fried off with a couple of garlic cloves – a real ‘cheffy’ option but utterly delicious!
One of the most amazing red mullet dishes I have ever tried was from the 3 Michelin starred Basque chef, Martin Berasategui. He serves a fillet of red mullet with what he calls “edible crystallized scales”. Through a continuous application of virgin olive oil at 200ºC poured over the layers of scales, they start to stand up stand upright and crystallize. With this process the dish gains in texture, flavour, colour and idiosyncrasy. Simple but brilliant at the same time.
I love to serve red mullet with Mediterranean flavours. Olives, capers, anchovies, saffron, tomatoes are great options, but this week I’m serving it with two of my favourite Spanish recipes from the Catalan kitchen; Escalivada and Romesco sauce. Red mullet also flavours another of favourite dishes, Suquet. Bon Profit!
Fillets of red mullet with escalivada and romesco sauce
- 8 fillets of red mullet
- 2 large aubergines
- 2 red bell peppers
- 2 yellow bell peppers
- 1 Spanish onion
- 150 ml olive oil
- 2 tbsp’s lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
Roast the red pepper in a hot oven or place under a hot grill until the skin blackens and blisters. Place in a bowl and cover well with cling-film. The steam will help to peel the pepper. When cold enough to handle, cut in half lengthways and remove the seeds.
Peel the skin away from the flesh of the pepper and discard. Place the peeled, deseeded pepper in a liquidiser. Place the almonds, garlic, stale bread and half the olive oil in a frying pan and gently toast them. Add this mixture to the peppers in the liquidiser and blend to a puree.
Add the tomato puree, paprika, brandy and sherry vinegar. With the motor running, slowly add the remaining olive oil to emulsify and thicken the sauce. Season to taste. This sauce can be stored in an airtight container or jar for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
- 1 large red pepper
- 450ml olive oil
- 100g peeled almonds
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1tbsn tomato puree
- 2tspn paprika
- 1 slice of stale bread, diced
- 50ml brandy
- 30ml sherry vinegar
Place the aubergines, peppers and onion on a roasting tray, drizzle with the olive oil and season. Place in a hot oven or under a hot grill and cook until the pepper skins are charred and the vegetables tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place them in a bowl covered with cling film. Let them cool enough to handle, then peel the vegetables and cut them into strips. Add crushed garlic, lemon juice and season to taste.
Pan-fry the red mullet fillets in a little olive oil, 1 minute on each side should be enough. Place a big spoonful of escalivada on warmed plates and top with a couple of red mullet fillets. Serve with romesco sauce.
Suquet de Peix
- 500g monkfish tail
- 500g sea bream
- 700g fresh mussels (cleaned)
- 400g red mullet
- 1200ml fish stock
- 1 Spanish onion (chopped)
- 4 tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
- 2 potatoes(peeled and sliced)
- 100g toasted almonds (ground)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1tbsp Chopped parsley
- 200ml olive oil
- Pinch of fresh saffron
Clean the fish and cut into even sized pieces. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the onions. Cook over a gentle heat to soften and add the garlic, tomatoes, saffron and potatoes. Cover with fish stock and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Stir in the cleaned fish, mussels and ground almonds.
Cook for another 10 minutes until all the mussels have opened and the fish is cooked. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste. Pour into a soup tureen and serve immediately.