The key to cooking a delicate fish such as red mullet is its absolute freshness. I had this dish at a small outdoor café near Catania’s fish market. There were only a few dishes on the menu, and most of the customers of the surrounding cafés were market traders and other local characters all enjoying red mullet, crusty bread, and local white wine. The proprietor was cooking the mullet in large fish-shaped black pans, with about 8 small fish in each one. This is an impressive dish, but is not complicated to make. The stuffing can also be used for chicken breasts.
– 2 lemons.
– 3 tbsp rock salt.
– 1 garlic clove, halved and any green inner shoot discarded.
– 30 black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped.
– ½–1 fresh red jalapeño or serrano chili, seeded and finely chopped.
– 20 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped.
– 20 flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped.
– juice of 1 lemon.
– 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil.
– a little light olive oil.
– 4 fresh red mullet or other small firm, lean fish, 9–14oz (250–400g) each, gutted, scaled, and cleaned.
– sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Step 2: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Using the back of a knife, crush the garlic with a little sea salt, until a smooth paste forms. Mix together the garlic, olives, chili, basil, parsley, and preserved lemon. Add the lemon juice and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Step 3: Take one of the red mullet and pat dry with paper towels. Stuff the cavity with some of the olive and lemon mixture. Repeat the process with the remaining mullet. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in an frying pan over medium-high heat. Pan-fry the mullet for 3 minutes. Turn gently and cook the other side for 2 minutes. Transfer the mullet to a baking dish, and bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until cooked through. (Alternatively, either grill the fish or bake entirely in the oven.) Serve at once with some mixed greens or braised spinach. The smoky roasted mullet and the stuffing combine brilliantly.