Red mullet with saffron, orange oil and spring onion barley

Red mullet with saffron, orange oil and spring onion barley

British Seafood
David Loftus

When we get smaller red mullet, I like to butterfly them as it’s a great way to prepare and serve these beautiful fish. To me, the taste of red mullet has notes of saffron and orange zest, so it makes sense to use those flavours in the barley and dressing.


Quantity Ingredient
4 red mullet, scaled, gutted and butterflied, (see note)
olive oil, for cooking
50g unsalted butter
8 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced, white and dark green part kept separate
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
100g pearl barley
200ml Vegetable stock
1 teaspoon saffron strands
200g spinach, washed and trimmed
2 teaspoons dill, chopped, plus extra fronds to garnish
50g parmesan, grated
Orange oil
cornish sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat and add a drizzle of olive oil and the butter. When hot, add the white spring onion and garlic to the pan. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the pearl barley, stir and cook for another minute.
  2. Pour in the vegetable stock and add the saffron. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until the barley is cooked but retaining a bite, and the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Taste the barley; if it is still a little undercooked, add a little more stock and continue to simmer until tender.
  3. Now add the green spring onion, spinach and dill, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the Parmesan and then check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
  4. To cook the fish, heat your grill to medium and oil and season the grill tray. Place the fish skin side up on the grill tray. Cook under the grill for 4 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through.
  5. Spoon the barley onto 4 warmed plates and place the red mullet on top. Add 4 tablespoons of orange oil to the grill tray and stir to mix with the cooking juices and create a little dressing. Drizzle over and around the fish, scatter over some dill fronds and serve at once.

Butterflying fish

  • This is a great technique for smaller round fish, such as sardines, herring and small red mullet. If necessary, remove the guts and cut off the head, fins and gills. Extend the cut from gutting the fish so the fish is opened from top to tail end.

    Now cut down both sides of the skeleton to release the flesh, without cutting right through. Using the palm of your hand, gently push down onto the back of the fish until the backbone is flat against the chopping board and the fillets are either side.

    With most fish, you can simply pull out the backbone with your fingers, but if that isn’t possible, use strong scissors and then trim off the backbone. Now use a filleting knife to trim the fish neatly and pin-bone using tweezers. The butterflied fish is now ready to cook.
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