If you can get your hands on the sweet “rock-loving” variety of red mullet, here is a simple treatment with a lovely balance of flavours.
The first time I had red mullet was in El Puerto de Santa María, a town close to Cádiz where the inhabitants seem to drink Fino sherry and eat gorgeous fish all day, every day of the year.
The best kind of red mullet comes from the Mediterranean, and there are in fact two varieties: Mullus surmuletus, which likes to hang out near rocks, living off smaller fish and crustaceans; and Mullus barbatus, which lives in sandy waters eating all kinds of things.
In Britain, fishmongers tend not to distinguish between the two, selling simply ‘red mullet’, but it is well worth asking for the rock-loving version as it has a much sweeter, clearer flavour. You can identify the fish by the stripes on the first dorsal fin and, when fresh, three or four yellow streaks along its sides. Its profile is slightly more elongated and less snub-nosed than its cousin.
Red mullet has such a beautiful sweet flavour that it doesn’t need anything complicated doing to it, just a simple pan-fry. I think this combination of potatoes and olives showcases the fish to perfection.
The fish should have been caught on the day you buy them, and buy the biggest specimens you can find – no tiddlers please. Each fish should weigh around 400g prior to filleting. Get your fishmonger to fillet them for you – each fish will give you two fillets of around 100g each.