Q. When is a mullet not a redneck hairdo?
A. When it's a fish!
Mullet is a "best choice" on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list, even though it's one many of us are completely unfamiliar with. Why? Mullet are found in warm or tropical regions and Florida's coast has healthy populations. They mature quickly and are caught with eco-friendly "strike nets" that don't damage the sea floor. This fish is also Good Eats. Read more about sustainable mullet, here at Seafood Watch.
When a surprise gift of smoked mullet arrived with the delicious Stone Crab claws sent by our favorite Charlie's Stone Crab I was thrilled. This seasonal winter delicacy is a delicious, sweet crab with meaty claws, slightly less frustrating for those that didn't grow up with the casual summer blue crabs and beer gatherings. Pick, sip, chat, pick, laugh...These Stone Crab are easy to eat, in fact, you only eat the large claws. It was a delight to feed my mother to the hilt with the delicacy. More on the Thanksgiving meal shortly, before Christmas, promise.
Working on my next piece for Nourish Network, I'd been researching the Feast of Seven Fishes. While menus for this Christmas Eve feast vary, a few things remain unchanged. First, no meat is to be served and the meal revolves around seafood. Typical menu items include eel, salt cod, squid, octopus, shellfish and as many immigrants built families here, the menus have evolved. The good news is that many of the dishes originated in small fishing villages in Southern Italy. Methods they used meant that the fish stocks remained healthy enough to sustain the families of the villages.
For a fun look at this tradition see Robert Tinnell's graphic novel.
Brandade of Smoked Mullet
What is a "brandade" you ask? Brandade [brahn-DAHD] the famous brandade de morue of Provence is a pounded mixture of salt cod, olive oil, garlic, milk and cream. At the fishmongers the other day, getting clams for Linguine con Vongole, I saw baccalà or salt cod. Stories of the smell of it soaking and cooking pepper the family memories of Italian-American friends. Portuguese call it bacalhao and it was a fish that sustained sailors from many countries from Scandanavia to the Mediterranean. It reminded me of the Brandade story and recipe, I'd yet to post.
Back to Thanksgiving preparations. Here I was with this delicious smoked fish, working on ideas for sustainable recipes for La Vigilia and it struck me: smoked fish spread in place of baccalà! This holiday is about a blend of old and new anyway, so my Christmas Eve gift to you is:
Smoked Mullet Brandade
- 2 cups boiled potatoes, skinned, broken up
- 1 cup half and half, heated with 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups flaked, smoked mullet
- 2 TBSP capers (preferably the salted ones, soaked and rinsed)
- Piquillo peppers for stuffing
- 1 tsp Pimentón picante
- 1TBSP Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp sherry vinegar
Break up mullet with your fingers in a medium bowl. Remove bones, skin carefully (though it's not a really bony fish).
Mince garlic, add to half and half and warm through in small saucepan. Once the garlic has infused the half and half, pour over the mullet.
Add potatoes, breaking them up with a fork. Add drained, chopped capers. Mash together with fork or in food processor, it should be fairly smooth. Depending on your potatoes, you may want more liquid, add olive oil to bring it to the consistency of thick mashed potatoes.
Stuff piquillo peppers with brandade, arrange in baking dish or tapas dishes, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Pimentón. Bake about 10 minutes till heated through.
Sprinkle parsley and sherry vinegar.
Brandade can also be spread on crostini and toasted.
To see more piquillo pictures like the one in the iWine Review report on Navarra Rose, see Today Was Red.