Red Mullet with Cumin
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
"Fenchurch had red mullet and said it was delicious. Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her. 'Why's this fish so bloody good?' he demanded, angrily."
Douglas Adams (1984)
It’s easy! Just add cumin to your red mullet. The flavour of cumin goes unbelievably well with red mullet... or so I think! Lamb and mint, salmon and dill, chicken and tarragon, beetroot and caraway, mackerel and horseradish.... As far as I'm concerned red mullet and cumin firmly belong in this list of perfect parings.
We heard last weekend that the summer weeds had by now receded sufficiently so that that the nets could go down and, by consequence, we saw some of our net-caught favourites reappearing on the stall. Amongst the catch appeared one of my particular favourites, red mullet.
I elaborate below as to how the combination of red mullet and cumin has come to be a tried, trusted and oft-revisited pairing in my repertoire but the proposal here is a simple one of red mullet marinated in cumin and pan-fried, served with a cumin-scented lentil dhal and a simple salad scented with... yes, cumin. So it's cumin three ways and red mullet!
I grew up overseas in a country with a hot climate and where red mullet were abundant and Indian and North African cuisines were ever-present. Red mullet coated in a cumin-based rub and then pan-fried featured regularly in my younger-year lunches and even at that young age I was never bothered about picking my way around the bones to enjoy the fish cooked that way. By the same token, dhal was on offer in any number of forms and I was (and still am) particularly fond of that, particularly when accompanying fried fish. Likewise, a chopped tomato, cucumber and onion salad, essentially a "Kachumbar" (see Note), was frequently put on the dinner table. Decades later I was enchanted to see that Rick Stein had come across such a similar combination of dishes when he visited Goa in his "Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey".
Any dhal will accompany the pan-fried red mullet recipe I describe here but, in this instance, I have favoured one I make regularly, one which is derived from a dish from "The Cinnamon Club Cookbook", the Cinnamon Club being a long-standing Indian restaurant to which I have been many times. Likewise, I have chosen a Kachumbar as an accompaniment but any simple tomato salad would be ideal.
Red Mullet with Cumin
Ingredients (per serving)
2 fillets of red mullet
½-1 tsp cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sunflower or vegetable oil
Lime wedge, to serve
Coat the red mullet fillets in the cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and a little oil, rubbing everything in well. Leave to marinate for about 20 minutes in the fridge.
Remove the fish from the fridge and allow to return to room temperature.
Heat a little of the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, and when ready, pan fry the fish fillets skin-side-down for 1-2 minutes to crispen the skin, then turn over, turn off the heat and allow to cook skin-side-up for a further minute.
Serve immediately with your choice of accompaniment and a wedge of lime.
Kachumbar is somewhere between a salad and a relish originating in India. At it's simplest it might be just tomatoes chopped or sliced with onion and some herbs and spices, typically chilli powder, cumin, garam masala and fresh coriander and/or mint. The dressing is simply lemon or lime juice and salt. The one I made here included diced tomato (deseeded), cucumber, red onion and was spiced with chilli powder and ground cumin and finished with salt, lime juice and chopped fresh coriander.