Eating the Mighty Mullet
By Kelly Dean
I like to share secrets, even if they are not really secrets. It makes me feel like I’m giving you the inside scoop on things only Florida locals know. Such is the case with the lowly mullet fish. I read somewhere that various mullet species are not only widespread throughout the globe, but feed more people on earth than any other fish. That’s impressive.
Then why is it not more respected here? Why do many just consider it baitfish? I debated this same issue with the Florida saltwater catfish in another post.
In Florida, mullet are near any estuary area and frequently school at the top of the water in the hundreds near shore — and sometimes thousands — a bit offshore. They love to get together near the surface of the water in summertime and skim the water’s surface for food.
They are also known for their leaping ability. They will jump 6 feet out of the water for no apparent reason, especially in the mornings. If you live near a bay or canal, you will see this daily. It is incredibly entertaining.
Yet they are hard to catch on a hook: the mullet lives on so-called “sea snow,” decomposing bits of organic material and microscopic living organisms floating in the water. Although, I have caught one on a white shrimp before, I can’t swear it wasn’t an accident. It is doable but rare. If fishing for mullet, folks generally cast a net. Unfortunately, they’re usually caught for cut-bait, not the dinner table.
The mullet has a slightly stronger fish flavor, much like mackerel. There is a dark band in the flesh which carries most of the fishy taste – that’s fine with me – it’s great. But the biggest benefit to the eater is it is always fresh. Mullet is so plentiful in Florida that many catch them in their nets when fishing for baitfish, such as summertime ladyfish or tarpon-loving pinfish.
I love mullet, myself. If I’m going to eat a fish, I want it to taste like a fish, not chicken. If fish is “too fishy,” you shouldn’t eat fish. To me, compared among the most popular menu fish, mullet tastes like real fish; grouper tastes mild but great; cod is nonexistent; flounder is in-between. Offshore fish are in a different flavor category all together.
The most preferred method of preparation is smoking the cut fillets. I like mullet smoked, fried, or grilled so I’m not that picky, but smoked and fried are my favorite ways to eat them.
I hope when you go to a restaurant, and the waitress says that they have fresh mullet today, I hope you’ll give it a try. Heck, you might have to ask her if she has it on the menu, but when you do, you will know you’ve gotten the freshest possible fish — and a true Florida native. Enjoy.