Here are the details on how to clean and eat mullet.
Assuming you’ve landed yourself a mullet or six, the next problem facing you is cleaning your catch. Scaling a mullet is no problem, really; they’re heavily armored fish, sure, but a quick scrape with a heavy spoon will make short work of their scales.
The real issue with processing mullet is that they are fairly bony fish with notably sturdy ribs, and they make for tricky filleting. Full disclosure here, I rarely bothered with filleting my mullet. Generally, I’d just take the time to watch out for the bones while eating.
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Some people, however, seem to find that an unacceptably onerous burden. If you want to fillet your mullet, the best advice I can give you is to use a long, flexible fillet knife. Start cutting right behind the pectoral fin, sliding the knife diagonally to the belly and then straight down the ventral line of the fish, all the way to the tail.
You can angle your flexible knife up against the ribs, and hopefully not leave too much meat behind as you separate the bones from the tasty bits.
Repeat the process from the other pectoral fin, and you should be left with a thin strip of fish belly with most of the guts attached (you can discard that, unless you’re hunting for the roe, which is a southern delicacy, fried and eaten with lots of hot sauce). You can then cut the backbone away, and you should be left with a meaty fillet.
Again, I usually don’t bother with that and just remove the guts and the head, but to each their own.
The next problem facing you is how, exactly, you will eat your mullet. If you’re in the South, the first thing that comes to mind is fried mullet. And, truth be told, fried mullet is a noble dish fit to be served to the most discerning of epicures. However, the mullet is actually a versatile fish.
The flesh is meaty and oily, substantial even. In the old days, mullet was most often salted and bought by the barrel, used in a fashion similar to salt cod. That’s fairly rare to find these days, though you can salt your own mullet easily, just like you would any other fish.
Of course, you have to plan ahead, since cleaning the fish for salting is a little different than just yanking the guts out. This publication from the 40s, courtesy of the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), gives a good overview of Gulf Coast Florida-style salt mullet, if you are interested.
Mullet makes for good grilling, since its muscular meat and strong flavor holds up well to high heat. The best way to grill a mullet, or any fish for that matter, is to slice up either lemons or grapefruit, place the fruit on the grill directly, and then put the fish onto the fruit. Not only does that keep the fish from sticking to the metal, but it also introduces a nice bit of moisture to keep your fish from drying out. Plus, the citrus will grill up and get kind of caramelized, becoming a delicious sauce you can squeeze out onto the fish when you are ready to eat.
The absolute best way to eat mullet, in my humble opinion, is to smoke it. Smoked mullet is unbelievable, a symphony of the flavors of smoke and the sea that will transform the way you think about eating fish.
I like to smoke it on pecan chunks, which lends the fish a subtle, peppery hint, although mesquite is a close second. I also smoke the fish on slices of citrus, similar to the way I grill it. Although you can’t eat the fruit when it’s smoked (it tastes terrible), it still provides additional moisture and flavor to the fish.
I like to just eat the smoked mullet as is, but a popular thing to do with it is to smear it onto crackers and eat it cold. Additionally, you can make a smoked mullet dip, similar to clam dip, with cream cheese. Everyone’s recipe for smoked mullet dip is different, but a good general base is 18 oz. of cream cheese, 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2-3 tablespoons of diced onion, a splash of hot sauce, 3 cups of flaked smoked mullet, and some cracked pepper. Mix it all up to your preferred level of smoothness and eat it on bread or crackers. Or make yourself a southern-style lox bagel with the smoked mullet dip and red onion slices.
Because mullet is such a naturally flavorful fish, you can cook it with some rather surprising herbs. Either grilled or smoked, a big handful of rosemary tucked into the body cavity is a real treat. Tarragon works well, too, as does sage. And, of course, green onions similarly situated in the cavity are always a great idea.
Mullet are fun to catch and fun to eat. If you ever find yourself in mullet country, I’d suggest you make the effort to land some yourself and see what you’ve been missing all these years.
What’s your favorite mullet recipe? Share it in the comments below.
Edited image via flickr user BXGD