Saltimbocca of Red Mullet

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Saltimbocca is usually a veal escalope wrapped in Parma ham with sage. The ham and the sage are, however, just as complementary to red mullet.

While the Italians usually choose to eat their fish whole and on the bone, this is one l prefer to fillet because it has excessive quantities of small bones. If you did cook the fish whole, it would have to be unwrapped from the Parma ham before it could be eaten and your enjoyment of the dish would be impaired by the necessity of picking out small bones. The whole point anyway is to take a mouthful which incorporates all three elements - hence fillets are essential.

Red mullet is a very delicate fish to scale, gut and fillet, and fishmongers on the whole tend to be rather too violent with it It is also a very easy fish to dissect and therefore a good one to learn how to fillet on. This recipe, however, also works very well with fillets of brill or halibut.

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Ingredients

  • 4 red mullet, each weighing about 225-285g/8-10 oz (smaller fish should be avoided as filleting them is akin to microsurgery)
  • 115g/4oz chilled unsalted butter
  • 8 large slices of Parma ham (i.e. cut from the centre of the ham and sliced on number one setting by the grocer)
  • 1 lemon
  • 4tbsp flour
  • 8 large sage leaves
  • sunflower oil, for frying
  • salt and pepper

Utensils

  • strong tweezers or electrician’s pliers
  • heavy frying pan large enough to hold the 8 fillets (you can use 2 pans or cook in 2 batches)
  • palette knife or fish slice

Method

Mise en Place

Well ahead: clean and scale the mullet and fillet. Wash the trimmings and freeze for fish soup. Using strong tweezers or small pliers, remove the small line of pin bones down each fillet and any rib bones • Cut the butter into 2 halves, straight from the fridge, and set aside one piece. From the other piece, cut four 15g/½oz pieces which are as thin as possible.

Assemble the saltimbocca: lay one sheet of Parma ham on your work surface. Put one of the thin slices of butter in the centre and lay the first fish fillet on top of the butter, flesh side down. Carefully wrap the ham to form an envelope round the fillet Repeat with the remaining fillets and refrigerate until ready to cook. They benefit from a couple of hours in the fridge to allow the flavours to commingle.

Juice the lemon • Season the flour.

Cooking

This is one of those dishes which cooks very quickly. Once you start, you are committed and your guests should be in the same room at the table.

Heat the pan(s) over a medium heat (you do not want it to be too hot) and pour a thin coating of oil into the pan(s).

Press a sage leaf on each mullet package and dredge it in seasoned flour. Put the packages with the butter side down into the pan. Cook gently until the ham is crisp underneath (which takes about 3 minutes). Do not be tempted to push them around.

With a palette knife or fish slice, carefully turn the parcels and fry the other side for a further 2 minutes. Transfer to a warmed serving plate. If you are cooking in 2 batches, the first batch can be held in a very low oven while you cook the second batch.

Pour out the juices from the pan, but do not wash it Melt the reserved block of butter in the pan over a medium heat. When it begins to colour slightly, pour in the lemon juice, add a little salt and pepper (but more pepper than salt because of the saltiness of the ham) and stir.

Pour the foaming mixture over the saltimbocca and serve at once. This a basic meunière technique used in restaurant kitchens and is delicious hot, but goes greasy on cooling.

Serving

Choose a vegetable which goes well with the sauce like new potatoes, or you might try some plain noodles. In the restaurant this dish is served on a bed of porcini (ceps) as a main course.

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