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  • Bute St Seafoodie

Steamed Red Mullet with Fennel and Sauce Vierge

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

"Red mullet: the fish that rocked the ancient world. It is I, Claudius meets The Tulip meets French Provincial Cooking, with a dazzling crimson illustration on the cover."

Bee Wilson, New Statesman (2000)

I devised this dish of steamed red mullet with quick-pickled fennel and Sauce Vierge some time ago, and shared it with some friends via a Zoom "cookalong" on my birthday. I’ve come back to it now we’ve started to see red mullet on the market fish stall.

The Sauce Vierge is essentially a recipe by the "King of Sauces", Michel Roux (RIP), from his bible of “Sauces: Savoury & Sweet”. It was definitely part of the inspiration for the dish as he authoritatively states in the introduction to his recipe that it partners a steamed fillet of red mullet beautifully - who am I to say he couldn't be more right.

To steam red mullet is quite a departure for me as I find it amongst the best fish to pan-fry. Indeed, I went further in my post for "Red Mullet with Cumin" to say that I find it ideally pan-fried with cumin. I don't think I will ever stop believing that cumin and red mullet are one of the most ideal pairings in the culinary universe.

In my humble opinion this is a dinner-party starter that punches above the weight of effort as everything can be prepped in advance with literally 2-3 minutes to steam the fish while the fennel and sauce are warmed. Let the party begin...

Small to medium red mullet are very conveniently sized as to offer a single starter portion in each fillet. As a rough guide a 250g fish will provide 2 fillets of about 60g each once prepared. I learnt the trick of seasoning fish served this way on the flesh side with salt and pepper but only with salt on the skin (presentation) side from Gary Rhodes (RIP), not least from his series "Gary Rhodes at the Table" and the accompanying book. It may seem obvious, but credit where credit is due, and if anyone was as meticulous in the presentation as in the cooking, it was surely he.

To honour my claim above that this recipe serves well as a convenient dinner party starter, the recipe is written in such a way as steps 1 and 2 can be completed well in advance of the final cooking. Once the steamer is at the boil, steps 3 and 4 are all that are required to get the plates to the table in a handful of minutes.

Steamed Red Mullet with Fennel and Sauce Vierge

Ingredients (Serves 2 as a starter)

For the fennel:

½ large or 1 small fennel bulb, ideally with fronds

200ml water

3 tsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp white sugar

½ tsp salt

For the Sauce Vierge:

1 large or 2 small vine tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and finely diced

2-3 tsp coriander seeds

2-3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1½ tsp lemon juice

½ tsp finely chopped tarragon or 1 tsp finely chopped chervil

1 tsp finely chopped chives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:

2 red mullet fillets, scaled and ideally pin-boned

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fennel fronds and/or extra chopped tarragon, chervil, chives for garnish


  1. Cut the fennel into strips approx 5mm thick and cut any fronds ready for garnish. Bring the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to the boil in a small saucepan and, once everything has dissolved, add the fennel strips, return to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the fennel strips and allow them to cool on a plate. Once cool enough to handle they can be cut into dice if desired.

  2. For the Sauce Vierge, first roughly grind the coriander seeds using a pestle and mortar. Put the diced tomatoes in the same (but clean) saucepan and mix in ½-1 tsp (to taste) of the ground coriander seed plus all the remaining ingredients and leave to infuse.

  3. When ready to serve the dish, bring the steamer to the boil. Taste the Sauce Vierge for seasoning and adjust accordingly then warm it gently in its saucepan. Season the fish with salt and pepper on the flesh side, and only with salt on the skin side. Put the fish flesh-side down on a plate that will fit in the steamer. Put the plate of fish in the steamer and steam for 2 minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

  4. Meanwhile, reheat the fennel gently in the microwave, then arrange the fennel and Sauce Vierge on 2 serving plates. When the fish is cooked top each plate with a fillet, garnish with the fennel fronds and/or herbs and serve immediately.


  1. "Sauces: Savoury & Sweet", Michel Roux (2009), pp. 145:

  2. "Gary Rhodes at the Table", Gary Rhodes (2000):


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