October 04, 2022
Are Mullet Good to Eat?
Health-wise, it seems that seafood with low amounts of mercury and high concentrations of fat (omega-3 fatty acids) are the best to eat. Those with lots of accumulated mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are the worst, and are on the “do not eat” list published by the Florida Department of Health. That list includes jacks, bluefish and king mackerel, to name a few. On the flip side, seafood like shrimp, scallops, sardines, Spanish mackerel, flounder and mullet are low in mercury and good to eat.
In the days when there were two distinct groups of Floridians, mullet were considered “bait” on the east coast and “Sunday dinner” on the west. Now, as Florida's population, growing at the rate of a thousand persons a day, has homogenized, the east-west divides have diminished. Now, folks in all parts of the state are enjoying this oily fish, smoked or fried, on a regular basis.
It's important to realize that while mullet can be found in both salt and freshwater environments, those from freshwater do taste muddy, an argument often professed by the “mullet are bait” crowd. Two distinct species, black (striped) and silver, predominate in Florida. Both taste great, but it's always important to ask your fishmonger or restaurant server about the origin of their mullet. And look for clear eyes and a fresh ocean smell, too.
How to Prepare Mullet
The first step in preparing a successful and tasty mullet dinner is cleaning the fish. I prefer scaling the fish that will be fried and leaving the scales on the fish to be smoked. Then, salt the resulting fillets and refrigerate, covered, overnight. This brining is important, and will make a big difference at the table.
How to Cook Mullet
Frying mullet (or any fish) involves hot, 375-degree oil (peanut or canola), a heavy frying pan, and a coating of finely ground corn meal. Avoid too many fillets in your pan and take care not to overcook them.
Smoking mullet can be a little more scientific, as the ability to hold low temperatures and make lots of smoke, in the 200-degree range, is critical. You'll need to brush your fillets with some canola oil and pick the proper wood for your fire. Avoid mesquite or oak and stick with pecan or hickory wood and natural charcoal. New, modern pellet smokers work well, but inexpensive homemade boxes with screen racks are traditional and work just fine. Smoking your mullet should take about 3 to 4 hours. I prefer my smoked mullet hot, right off the fire, but many folks like to make smoked mullet dip and serve as a cold appetizer, pictured at the top of this article.
Helen's Famous Smoked Mullet Dip Recipe
- 2 cups smoked mullet meat, flaked
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- ¼ cup chopped celery
- ¼ cup chopped Gherkin pickles or pickle relish
- 1 tbs Tabasco Sauce
- Juice of a lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the ingredients with a fork, taking care not to create a paste. Chunky is good.
Don't overestimate the health benefits of eating fresh mullet, fried or smoked. Keep your portions reasonable, and remember that while eating them might be good for your heart, “pigging out” isn't good for the waistline! FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine November 2019