The gray mullet is called mulet in French, but also muge, from the Latin mugil, the name given by Pliny to all of the species of this fish. Then, because of the different pronunciations, the word turned into mugel in Spanish, muggine in Italian, meuille in the Bay of Biscay, and (gray) mullet in English. It is likely that the term mulet in French was finally adopted because of its gray color and the fairly bulky shape of this fish, which recalled the mule, the offspring of a donkey and an ass, also called mulet in French.
Gray mullet was widely consumed in ancient times. The Egyptians salted it after "having split the back with a knife" (Xenocrates). Their fishing was highly successful, as this fish was present across much of the Nile, and they exported it to Syria. The Romans were fond of the gray mullet, mainly because of its big head.
Bottarga, sometimes called "caviar of the Mediterranean", was also popular in ancient times. It seems likely that the Phoenicians used to make it, and it is prepared in more or less the same way today in Mediterranean countries. In Italy, the one made in Sardinia is famous, like the one from Martigues in France. But it is also made in Australia and in Japan, where it was introduced around 400 years ago and where it continues to be very popular.
Mullet roe is used to prepare the true tarama, a specialty of Greek and Turkish cuisines, naturally pink because of the color of these eggs.
Its firm white flesh can have a muddy flavor, depending on where it was caught. That is why sea-caught mullet (which has an almost black back) is always best.
Signs of freshness include: wet, shiny scales, firm flexible body, bulging eyes, and a pleasant sea smell without the slightest hint of ammonia.
It must weigh at least 150 g and be thicker than 1.5 cm, otherwise it is difficult to cut. The layer of paraffin (sold at the same price as the bottarga itself) should be thin (1 mm or less). Bottarga made in France or in a country of the European Union is subject to strict hygiene rules. When eaten, a good bottarga does not disintegrate, but should have the consistency of chewing gum. It has a strong taste of iodine.
Gray mullet is sold fresh, either whole or in deboned fillets.
It is also sold frozen, either whole or filleted, with or without skin, plain or salted or smoked.
Bottarga is usually vacuum-packed.
Gray mullet can be poached in a court-bouillon, baked in the oven, or broiled (in this case, the scales would not be removed first).
The fillets can be fried or steamed.
All sea bass recipes can be used for this fish.
Bottarga is cut into thin slices, and used as such on croutons, or crumbled onto pasta, rice, and used in sauces.
Gray mullet can be kept for a maximum of 48 hours in a refrigerator or cold room at 4 °C.
When frozen, place directly in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.
Bottarga should be stored between 4 and 8 °C. Once opened, it must be covered in film so that its smell does not contaminate other products.
Like all fish, the gray mullet is high in protein, minerals, and B vitamins. However, it is the only fish to be truly rich in vitamin B6.
As this is quite a fatty fish, it contains a lot of unsaturated fatty acids, and therefore Omega 3.
There are around sixty species of gray mullet. The main species are: thick-lipped gray mullet, flathead mullet, which can grow up to 70 cm long, thin-lipped gray mullet, golden gray mullet which has a spot of gold on the opercles (which close the gills), leaping mullet, and white or silver mullet.
Mullets are sold all year round.
Bottarga, or botargo, is the roe sack collected from pregnant female mullets. It is then salted, dried, and covered with a thin layer of wax.
It is typical of many Mediterranean countries: Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the Maghreb. In France, the one from Martigues is the most famous.
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