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Grilled red mullet

Updated: Tue, 21 May, 2024

Grilled red mullet is a real treat: its flesh has perfect texture, flaky and flavoursome, the skin is crispy and delicate and it is surprisingly easy to eat when cooked whole, bone-wise.

grilled red mullet

Red mullet: small but perfectly tasty

Red mullet is small, beautifully coloured fish best enjoyed in early autumn. Perhaps that's why it has that rusty-pink, autumnal hue to its skin.

It has long barbs on its chin (do fish have chins?) which always remind me of an image of ancient Chinese emperors with long, forked goatees.

Red mullet is caught in the south waters of the UK and around the European Atlantic coast all the way to the Mediterranean. A truly seasonal fish, it appears on the British fishmongers' stalls in summer.

It is also known by its French name rouget which I'm fond of as it sounds nothing like the hideous haircut.

grilled red mullet with anchovy butter

Small fish full of bones?

I know a lot of people are put off whole, smaller fish because of bones, and the irrational fear that once they swallow a single bone, it will promptly choke them to death. It is as unreasonable as it is ridiculous, because sardines, herring and sprats have soft and small bones, easily digested. And even mackerel or trout bone won’t kill you, however unpleasant the experience may be.

But anyway, ‘small bony fish’ may well be applicable to sardines and herring but not to red mullet. This one is astonishingly easy to eat even when cooked whole, as the little bones helpfully cling to the main bone with only a scattering along the sides. Nothing that would repel even a staunch fishbone phobe.

fresh red mullet

Texture to die for

And the little mullet is the flakiest fish in the world. It is therefore hard to overcook, which is the commonest crime when cooking fish.

It is juicy and succulent: I call fish flesh like that slimy in the best possible sense. If it grew bigger, it would probably make the meanest fish and chips.

Fillets or whole fish?

But since it is small, I think that filleting it is a bit of a waste, especially as the bones come out cleanly out of the whole cooked mullet.

Interestingly, it is actually nicer the smaller it is, the overgrown specimen sometimes being on the mushy side.

red mullet from the grill

How to cook red mullet

Thus I wouldn’t attempt to fillet red mullet unless you're a fancy chef creating a posh starter. Grilling works best because the resulting crispy pink skin of the rouget is just divine.

I have never tried it on barbecue and would probably find it tricky as barbecuing fish, especially small like this is a blink of an eye between crispy and charcoaled - but if you’re a BBQ master, you should certainly try.

Seasoning red mullet for the grill

No seasoning bar a little salt is really needed if the fish is spanking fresh but I like a little anchovy butter brushed over that glorious skin to make it even more glorious.

seasoned butter

If you can position a rack over a grill tray, lined with foil to limit washing up, place the fish on the rack, brushed with the seasoned butter on both sides.

It takes a mere couple of minutes on each side under a hot grill, brushing them with butter again when turning over.

grilling red mullet

And finally, a caveat: if only you can, ask your fishmonger to scale and gut the red mullet for you. I'm a dab hand at gutting fish but this one has very soft underbelly. Cutting through and gutting is just so messy it's better to leave that task to the professionals. Otherwise you end up with mutilated fish flesh and yourself gutted.

More grilled fish recipes

Grilled sea bream with balsamic marinade. Oven grilled, or broiled, whole sea bream seasoned with balsamic seasoning, the best way to cook whole sea bream.

Dover sole is the best grilled. On the bone but skinned, served with plenty of caper and lemon butter - follow this recipe to fish dish perfection.

Grilled whole mackerel with spice crust: it’s healthy, it’s cheap and it takes fifteen minutes to prepare. With a squeeze of lemon and a simple salad, it’s an easy and delightful dish.

More less common fish recipes

John Dory oven roasted whole with thyme on a bed of red peppers and tomatoes is a one-pan dish that tastes fabulous. John Dory is an excellent, flaky white fish albeit quite expensive. Well worth an occasional treat though.

Deep fried sprats can be eaten whole, head, tail and all but it’s very easy to lop the heads off and clean the sprats a bit. An easy, cheap and delicious treat.

Pan fried skate wing fillet with caper butter and crispy garlic. Skate or ray wings can be cooked as they are but much nicer filleted – and it’s really easy to do.

grilled whole red mullet

Grilled red mullet

Servings: serve 2-3 fish per personTime: 10 minutes
Rating: (1 reviews)


  • 2-3 small red mullets per person, cleaned, gutted and scaled, heads on
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander


1. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper.

2. Melt the butter in a small pan, add the anchovy fillet and mash it with a fork until it dissolves. Add the chopped coriander and keep the butter warm.

3. Heat the grill to medium. Brush the red mullet generously with the seasoned butter all over, place them under the grill on a rack and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on their size.

4. Brush with the seasoned butter again before and after turning them over. Serve immediately.

Originally published: Tue, 5 April, 2016

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Antonio - thank you for the comment. With the bones, sometimes it's not so easy, I agree.
4 years ago
Antonio Thomas
one I grilled small fish but that was not that easy to remove bones, the middle one is simple but once you grill it the others on the sides get stuck in meat. But I appreciate the way you explained it.
4 years ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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