Striped Red Mullet

The striped red mullet, called rougets in French or barbunia as it’s known locally, is a small red fish found throughout the Mediterranean. They’re actually not a species of mullet and only vaguely related to grey mullets; rather they’re a type of goatfish, more closely related to perches. The genus is Mullus, which is probably where the misnomer came from. They’re a delicacy, and have been known as far back ancient Rome.

They’re so cute they’re almost cuddly. And they are delicious.

All of the fish-buying advice is the same: bright dark red gills, glossy eyes, no smell. I would add to find a fish guy you like and stick with him. I like A.R. Dagim in Machane Yehuda (15 HaTapuach, 02-625-1772), and I’ll tell you why. A year or so ago, I found myself in Machane Yehuda on a Sunday morning. I wanted a fish for something —I don’t remember what— and even though they were just open to clean up from Friday, they were the only ones open who were willing to make the sale. It doesn’t hurt that his prices are good and his product always looks fresh, either. That’s how you get a “guy” in Machane Yehuda, by the way. When I came to buy fish from him the barbunia were still sitting in there styrofoam crate so I wasn’t worried about the freshness.

At ₪100 per kilo, these aren’t the cheapest fish for sale. Their small size does let you budget one fish per diner, and ₪10 per person isn’t that bad for an appetizer for a special occasion or a light lunch. The other great thing about these fish is that the flesh has a noticeable sweetness that you want to bring out by doing nothing else to the fish but prepare it as simply as possible. Any other flavors would be overwhelming.

Preparing round fish like barbunia, tilapia, tuna or salmon pretty much follow the same procedure: Clean, fillet, cook. The fishmonger will scale and gut the fish and remove its gills for you.

Remove the dorsal (back) fins. This is more easily done with a pair of scissors.

Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut along the bottom of the fish until the tail fin. The spine is located down the center middle of the fish, so make sure your knife tip remains above the spine. You’re cutting through the bones that are the ribcage, actually facing up.

Repeat for the other side.

Using your knife, press down the fillets and with your fingers gently lift the spine away.

Remove any pin bones in the fillets.

Dredge the fillets in flour, pan-fry for three minutes. Simple and delicious.

Looks a little like bacon, don't it?

For those of you who are less squeamish and don’t want to go through all that fuss:

Simply take the whole fish, cut the tail fin off, then dredge in flour and pan-fry. You’ll have to pick the flesh off the bones, but it’s just as good and much easier to cook.

Yes, I ate the eyes. The cat ate the rest of the head.



8 thoughts on “Striped Red Mullet”

  1. Marc they are my favourites. I wrap them in grapeleaves with a little olive oil, thyme and salt and white pepper. 20 min in oven till crisp and pour some vinagrette of lem juice olive oil tsp mustard and thyme over it when serving.

  2. A nice article. I think the lady is first Russian/Ukrainian? I have a friend in The Philippines who also eats the eyes. They eat a lot of fish, but the deep fry the entire fish until it's like leather. When I fillet and fry until the flesh turns white and say, "it's done" she says, "it's raw."

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