LAWRENCE MURPHY: Let’s hair it for the mullet – a great stand-in for sea bass

Grey mullet with spicy tomato sauce.
Grey mullet with spicy tomato sauce.
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Pete, our local fisherman, has been catching wonderful sea bass which have ended up in our restaurant.

he number of wild sea bass caught this year has been limited to allow stocks to increase after concerns it was being over-fished.

The catch has been limited so this prized fish has increased in value. However, Pete has also been catching more affordable fish such as mackerel and grey mullet. The latter are often confused with sea bass because of their black to silver skin, but generally they have a broader head and fatter lips.

This cheaper fish has a dense texture and strong flavour so can handle stronger flavours such as garlic, olives and spices. Don’t be put off by its reputation for rummaging in muddy pools looking for scraps and because it’s often seen inside harbours.

Try to buy those caught farther out which have a less earthy flavour.

It’s much sought-after abroad where the roes are smoked and used in taramasalata. Here we use fresh tomatoes, garlic, olives and chilli for a chunky sauce to go with the mullet.

Grey mullet with spicy tomato sauce

Ingredients (serves four)

700g grey mullet fillets in four portions

2 small onions chopped

300g tomatoes chopped

2 sticks celery cut into cm cubes

1 leek cut into cm squares

1 red chilli chopped

3 cloves garlic sliced

Bay leaf

200ml white wine

Teaspoon tomato paste

12 black olives stoned and chopped

70ml olive oil

Sea salt


1. Gently heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onion, celery and garlic. Cook for two minutes without colouring.

2. Add the chilli and leek and cook for a further two minutes.

3.Now stir in the tomato paste and cook for one minute.

4. Pour in the white wine and add the tomatoes.

5. Cover with a lid and simmer for eight minutes.

6. Rmove the lid and add the black olives.

7. Cook for a further two minutes until you have reduced away some of the liquid.

8. Heat a pan until hot and then reduce the heat put in a little olive oil and add the fish skin side down.

9. Cook for four minutes then turn the fish over for another three minutes.

10. Spoon the sauce into bowls and put the fish on top.

-Lawrence’s restaurant is Fat Olives at Emsworth ( 01243 377 914.