Steamed Red Mullet with Bitter Salads and Olive Oil Dressing

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    as a Starter

Appears in

Shaun Hill's Cookery Book

Shaun Hill's Cookery Book

By Shaun Hill

Published 1990

  • About

This mullet dish is in the tradition of many Mediterranean fish dishes which are cooked and served with olive oil. Escabeche comes to mind. Unless the mullet are tiny I prefer to fillet them. The bones are messy on the plate with a salad, and unless you are an accomplished eater they are inclined to make the meal more of a challenge than a pleasure. The mullet flesh cooks quickly, much quicker than sea bass for instance. You may grill the fish if you prefer, but if you do, you must just grill through the skin side only. This will make the skin edible and the flesh still juicy. If you are going to serve the mullet warm it is better steamed. An oil-based dressing over grilled fish would give an oily taste, whereas steamed fish will have a cleaner feel that welcomes the oil dressing in the same way that butter sauces always go better with steamed or poached fish.

The addition of a little parsley pesto sauce adds an extra dimension to the dish, though it isn’t essential.


  • 2 × 8 oz (225 g) red mullet
  • a selection of salad leaves: curly endive, lollo rosso, dandelion
  • leaves and batavia
  • 1 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and diced


  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 5 fl oz (150 ml) extra virgin olive oil

Flat leaf parsley pesto

  • 1 oz (25 g) pine kernels
  • 1 fl oz (25 ml) olive oil
  • 1 oz (25 g) flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 fl oz (25 ml) fish stock or white wine


The Fish

  1. Scale the fish by scraping them from tail to head at an acute angle with a sharp knife. This is a messy process and the scales will fly everywhere if you are not careful. Try not to work next to all your best salad things.
  2. There is a sharp dorsal fin along the ridge of the backbone. Cut carefully along this line until you come to the backbone. Keep your knife pointed slightly inwards. This way if your hand slips you’ll cut fish and not finger. Also, you should find that there is a line of bone which will prevent your knife cutting across into the opposite side. The process is easier than it sounds and you shouldn’t be daunted by it. After all, it is only the common sense of removing flesh from bone that you are about.
  3. Wash the fillets of fish and pat dry immediately.
  4. If you run your finger along the centre of each fillet from top to bottom you will find there is a series of small bones. If these worry you they are easily removed with a pair of tweezers.

The salad leaves

  • Thoroughly wash the salad leaves. Make sure that the water is cold so that the salad will be crisp. It is best if you run a basin full of cold water and dunk your leaves in it. This way any grit that there may be in there will loosen and sink to the bottom.
  • Drying salad leaves thoroughly is as important as washing. Shake each leaf thoroughly. Too much water will dilute the dressing and make the leaves flabby.

The dressing

  • Put the crushed coriander seeds, whole garlic and the sprigs of thyme into the olive oil with some peel from the lemon, and warm through gently. Allow it to cool.

To Complete

  • Season your salad leaves with salt and pepper and then arrange in a circle along the outside of each individual plate.
  • Liquidise the pesto ingredients, with a squeeze of lemon juice, to produce a pale green, creamy sauce.
  • Steam the mullet until it is just cooked, about 5 minutes for an 8 oz (225 g) mullet. If larger, cook longer; it is done when the flesh starts to form flakes. (If you have no steamer or double saucepan, cook the fish in a shallow pan with only 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of stock or wine and a tight-fitting lid to cover the pan. When the liquid evaporates it will produce steam and cook the fish very quickly.)
  • Place a spoonful of the pesto sauce in the centre of each plate. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the fish fillets, then lift them carefully on to the pesto sauce.
  • Spoon the tomato dice on to the fish fillets, and spoon the dressing over the fish and salads.