Red mullet with wild mushrooms, baby spinach, crushed potatoes and Caesar dressing

12 January 2018

Red mullet with wild mushrooms, baby spinach, caesar potatoes

There’s a fine food store in Norwich that I’ve walked past many a time - half noticing that it was there, but always in a hurry to get somewhere else as we so often are. And then, of course, once I’d walked past it the first few times I stopped registering it at all. 

Sooner or later, though, I’m always going to reclaim that initial curiosity and find my way into the store. And that day finally arrived. I was in town - some way away - but I determined to walk all the way over there and finally see what they had to offer. As it happened, that day arrived at the time of year - immediately post New Year - when it was somewhat depleted of the bountiful fresh fish and game they normally have.

The store is Howard & Son, just up from Magdalen Street. Having chatted to the proprietor about the sort of things they usually carry, I decided to at least take the opportunity that presented itself, and to get some frozen fillets of red mullet.

I’d made precisely one dish before that used red mullet - which was Thomas Keller’s red mullet with a garlic patty and parsley coulis - one of the dishes for which he became famous and a fabulous combination of flavours for a special occasion. 

Red mullet is not caught locally here, so it’s available frozen, where you see it at all. And I hadn’t much seen it, so the fact that Howard & Son had some was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Then, as you do when you’ve made a spontaneous purchase of a core ingredient, I needed to think through pretty quickly what I was going to do with it. I’d already noted with some curiosity a recipe by Adam Gray on the fabulous Great British Chefs site which pairs the fish with crushed potatoes with a Caesar dressing. I figured I would take that route.

It’s a simple dish, so of course there’s nowhere to hide and you have to get things just right. You pan fry the mullet briefly - it’s so small that it’s two to a person. I added wild mushrooms to the mix because I had some freshly harvested wild pink oyster mushrooms to use. And I wanted to make the Caesar dressing from scratch, which the recipe doesn’t do.

The end result was a delicious, relatively light and quick meal, and one that I’d be happy to repeat.

Of course, I generally like to get fresh and locally caught when it comes to seafood. But our sustainable world becomes a restricted place if it means you can’t enjoy and experiment with produce that comes elsewhere. Red Mullet in the UK is generally found to the South - around Cornwall in particular. It’s a warm water fish, so is happiest in the Mediterranean. Although it’s more popular in Europe than it is in the UK, it’s not currently noted as a fish with sustainability concerns.

Red mullet with wild mushrooms, baby spinach, crushed potatoes and Caesar dressing

I used the wild pink oyster mushrooms, which aren’t generally to be found in the shops and which take a lot longer to cook than your standard wild mushrooms. I’ve done the recipe below to use the more usual types - if you do end up in the happy position of having the wild pinks, you need to cook them on a lower heat and for longer - more like 20 minutes.

Serves: 2

4 fillets red mullet
400g new potatoes
1 handful wild oyster mushrooms
1 handful baby leaf spinach
2 spring onions
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
20g unsalted butter

For the Caesar dressing

2 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
20 ml olive oil
100 ml vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan


Put the potatoes in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Cook gently until tender and then put to one side.

While the potatoes are cooking, make the dressing. Mince together as finely as possible the anchovy and the garlic until you have a paste. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until smooth, then add in the mustard and the anchovy/garlic paste and whisk in until fully incorporated. Add the lemon juice and whisk in, and then begin to drizzle in the olive oil - very slowly at first, just a few drops at a time while whisking. Then when all the olive oil has been incorporated, begin drizzling the vegetable oil, whisking all the time. The sauce should thicken nicely by the time you’ve added all of the oil and continued to whisk for an additional minute or two. Finally whisk in the grated parmesan and season to taste with the black pepper (you shouldn’t need extra salt with the anchovies and the parmesan, but you be the judge). Put to one side.

If they’ve cooled, now begin to reheat the potatoes.

Heat two frying pans over a medium high heat, one with a tablespoon of vegetable oil (for the fish), the other with two tablespoons (for the mushrooms). Begin frying the wild mushrooms - as soon as you’ve added them, add the 20g unsalted butter to the pan. Keep them on the move while they’re cooking.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. In the other pan, add the fillets skin side down. Cook for a couple of minutes, and then flip them over with a fish slice for an additional thirty seconds on the other side. Then remove from the heat.

To serve, remove the potatoes from the cooking water, and crush them lightly. Stir in a few tablespoons of the Caesar dressing. 

Using a cooking ring, spoon a ring of potato onto the plate, and top with some of the baby leaf spinach. Slide off the ring and place two fillets on top, criss crossed. Scatter the wild mushrooms around the plate and drizzle a little more of the dressing.

Food waste notes

If you use just a couple of anchovy fillets then you’ll have plenty left over. You can store them in the jar / tin they came in if you wish, so long as they’re completely covered by oil. They will last for a couple of weeks - and you probably won’t use them all in that time. The best alternative is to remove them from the jar, spread them out on some clingfilm on a tray, cover with another sheet of clingfilm and freeze them. Then, once they’ve frozen, put them all together in one little freezer bag or wrapped in cling film. Frozen this way, they will keep for six months or longer, and can be used just as and when you need them.

In my case, as it happens, this dish used the last two of my store of frozen anchovies. It’s always a good feeling to have used them all up - it certainly used to be one of the things that most commonly went to waste before I got serious about storage.

You’ll also have egg white that needs using up. You can keep it sealed in the fridge for two to three days and use it to make meringues, mousses or a pale omelette (by adding it to a couple of whole eggs). If you don’t think you’re going to do any of those things in the next couple of days (and if you don’t have a firm plan to, assume you won’t) then egg white will also freeze perfectly well and can be kept for up to a couple of months.

If you’re making this dish for two, as above, you’ll have more Caesar dressing than you need (it’s tricky to make in smaller quantities than the above). If you’re making it for more, then leave the Caesar dressing quantities unchanged, and you should have just enough. But failing that, plan for tomorrow to get some chicken (I actually had some left over from my roasted chicken meal previously blogged), some salad leaves, and toast some bread into croutons and bingo, classic chicken Caesar salad. The dressing won’t keep for longer than a couple of days, so it has to be your next meal. If that’s just not going to happen, then it’s time to compromise and use the shop-bought version that won’t have the same flavour, but also won’t go off so quickly.