Red Mullet en Papillote
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Red mullet don’t seem to be targeted in the UK like they are in Europe and, instead, appear as by-catch. My experience is that, around the Mediterranean, they are generally fried, often in worryingly undersized form.
In Red Mullet with Cumin I was raving about the amazing affinity red mullet have with cumin, and I would say that’s because they both share a certain earthy quality of flavour. It is true that when red mullet are available and reach my kitchen, they are almost always marinated in cumin (and sometimes garlic) and pan-fried in olive oil. At this time of year they are indeed available (though usually in small quantities) and there is often something of a bun-fight over them amongst the first few in the queue.
In this dish, the red mullet are scented with herbs but, unsurprisingly, ones with an earthy character. The original recipe called for thyme, and I have enjoyed it that way for years. However, the other day, a lovely friend of mine gave me a large bunch of rosemary sprigs from her garden so I thought I might try the recipe with rosemary stepping in for the thyme. Having done so I would argue the rosemary version is better (thank you, lovely friend), but I'm sure you can be your own judge! Gurnard would also work well in this recipe, by the way.
This is a one-person-one-fish version of a recipe from “Rick Stein’s Seafood Lovers’ Guide”. Mr. Stein suggests that the dish be served with chips and a salad consisting of tomatoes, red chilli, chopped garlic, black olives, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped parsley. Who am I to argue? However, some wilted spinach or chard would also make a nice accompaniment when tomatoes are not at their seasonal best.
So often it is recommended that a dish cooked en papillote be brought to the table en papillote. I think this should be a matter of discretion. If the fish has not been over-cooked it should lift out of its parcel on a large spoon without breaking and the cooking juices can be drizzled over. Picking one’s way through what is a bony fish with flaps of foil getting in the way seems a potential nuisance.
Since each fish is allocated its own parcel, the ingredient quantities need only simply be multiplied up per the number of fish to be served.
Red Mullet en Papillote
Ingredients (per person)
1 red mullet
Rosemary or thyme sprigs
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp dry white wine
2 tsp lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to a high setting, 220-240°C, and place a baking sheet inside to heat up.
Season the fish with salt and pepper inside and out, and stuff the cavity with a couple of sprigs of herbs.
Drizzle a little olive oil over a square of foil, put the fish diagonally on the foil then bring the sides of the foil up around the fish with a tight crimp at the edges but with an opening remaining at the top.
Through the opening, pour the wine, lemon juice and 1 tbsp water. Add a couple more herb sprigs and a little more seasoning, then seal the parcel. Ideally the parcel should be loose-fitting, but tightly-sealed.
Place the parcel on the hot baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes depending on the size of the fish, then serve.