Cooler fall temperatures — with cool being relative for Florida — see mullet runs pick up along the Gulf Coast. Even better, many of those mullet are filled with roe, a delicacy in much of the world. While people from other areas of the United States might not know about such things, the folks who grew up netting these fish have enjoyed it for generations.
After a successful trip to net a few nice-sized mullet last month, we filleted several and saved the roe. Mullet roe can be either white or yellow, with a long-standing debate as to which tastes better when rolled in cornmeal and fried. I’m firmly in the yellow camp.
Unlike the smoked mullet we make, I like boneless fillets for fried mullet. Many native Floridians also keep the backbone and tail from the fish to fry up when they are cooking. While the crunchy tail is delicious, there isn’t enough meat on them for me to go to the trouble. I take the skin off my mullet fillets so that I can trim away any dark red meat, but lots of folks claim the fried skin is the best part and simply scale the fish to leave the skin on. Try it both ways and decide for yourself.
When frying mullet roe sacks, which can reach several inches in length, take care when skinning and cooking to keep the sacks intact. If you nick the outer casing, it isn’t the end of the world, but some of the eggs will spill out during the cooking process. Mullet roe comes out in two loosely attached sections. Gently pull the sections apart to fry individually. Remove the dark strip of material between the two sections before cooking. Don’t overcook your roe. Simply roll it in your favorite seasoned cornmeal fish breading and fry in hot oil for a few minutes per side until the surface is crisp and golden. If you overcook the roe, you lose a lot of the great flavor and the texture isn’t as pleasing.
2 to 3 pounds fresh mullet fillets
Roe from the cleaned mullet
2 cups of your favorite seasoned cornmeal fish breading
Peanut oil for frying
Heat 1/2 inch of peanut oil in a cast-iron skillet to 350 degrees. Roll the mullet fillets in the breading until generously coated on all sides.
Fry, in batches, for 3 to 5 minutes per side or until crispy golden brown and just cooked through. Move to a paper-lined warm plate and repeat until all fish is done.
Once all of the fish has been fried, reduce the heat to medium. Gently roll the roe sacks in the cornmeal mixture.
Carefully transfer the breaded roe to the hot oil. Take care, the roe often pops and splatters at first. Fry the roe to a golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Don’t overcook the roe.
Serve with your favorite sides like white beans, slaw, and hush puppies.
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