by Martin May, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 4:51PM EST
Mullet is one of the signature flavors of Old Florida. Usually enjoyed smoked or fried, it's traditionally served with hushpuppies, grits, or maybe even a slice of white bread. But mullet's appeal is greater than just nostalgia. One of Florida's most moderately priced seafood products, this old-time favorite is the perfect seafood choice for these tough economic times. Prices are especially good in December, when harvest is at its height.
"Mullet has historically been one of the more wallet-friendly seafood products," said Nelson Mongiovi, marketing director for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "And now, since supply is at its peak, you can find it at your local seafood market at the most competitive price of the year. The current retail price for mullet is around $2.60 per pound."
Of all the fish harvested in Florida, mullet tops the list in terms of pounds landed. Mullet can be found in the bays and estuaries along both of Florida's coasts, but most of the commercial harvest takes place along the Gulf Coast, in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and Lee counties. Harvest methods are limited by law to gill and cast nets. Mullet are available year round, but supply is greatest in late fall when the fish form huge schools and migrate from shallow coastal waters into deeper waters to spawn.
Striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) and white mullet (Mugil curema) are the two varieties of mullet commercially harvested in Florida. Striped mullet are commonly called black mullet, gray mullet, or jumping mullet. White mullet are often called silver mullet.
The mullet's body is elongated and stout, with a dark bluish color at the top shading to silver along the sides. The large scales along the sides of the striped mullet have dark centers that give the illusion of horizontal stripes. Both striped and white mullet have small mouths and widely separated dorsal fins. The average weight of an adult mullet is 2 to 3 pounds, but it is possible for mullet to reach an excess of 6 pounds. Mullet are considered vegetarians and feed on aquatic plants and algae. The mullet is the only fish that has a gizzard; it's used to grind up and digest plant material.
When purchasing mullet, make sure it's firm, with a fresh, mild sea-breeze aroma. Fresh whole fish should have a shiny surface with tightly adhering scales. The gills should be deep red or pink, and the eyes should be clear, not cloudy. Fresh steaks and fillets should have a translucent look, no discoloration, and packaging that prevents them from being bent in an unnatural position.
Mullet is a lean food fish with firm-textured, light meat and a moderate flavor. For a milder flavor, skin the fillets and remove the dark, lateral line that runs through the meat. Mullet is best when it is absolutely fresh, but if necessary it can be stored for up to two days in the coldest part of the refrigerator. When purchasing whole fish, buy 3/4 to 1 pound per person. If you're buying cleaned, dressed fish, half a pound per person should be plenty.
Though mullet is most commonly smoked or fried, it can also be baked, broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, or boiled. It's an oily fish and won't dry out easily when cooked. Mullet is an excellent source of protein. It's also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be good for the heart.
Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services