There is nothing quite comparable to whole grilled fish with a warm seasonal salad on a summer evening. My Barbecued Red Mullet with Warm Fennel Salad and Oranges is exactly that.
These fish have a distinctive flavor that contrasts perfectly the acidic citrus in this dish. Small red mullet show up at fancier fish stores in the United States and everywhere in the Mediterranean. Red mullet is sold whole and in fillets, both fresh and frozen. Whole fish are usually sold unprepared and thus require trimming, scaling and gutting. Red mullet is best bought from May to November, outside of spawning season, to protect stocks. If mullet is unavailable on those off months, use small snapper or even ocean perch for a similarly delicate substitution.
Nyons olives are one of my all-time favorite varieties to toss in salads or cook in pastas, or even to blend into a pesto, which is a favorite of my sons. These tiny, jet-black olives from southern France have a salty, mild bitterness whether dry-cured or packed in oil. If you’re an olive novice, Nyons will romance you right from the first bite. As an alternative, arbequina olives are perfectly crisp, tiny and slightly bitter Spanish olives that pair nicely with the warmed fennel in this recipe.
Just as red mullet is best bought from May to November, oranges have a peak season as well. I really enjoy Valencia oranges in a summer salad because they are medium sized and have few seeds. And you really get bang for your buck as opposed to smaller citrus fruits like tangerines and nectarines that are filled with inedible seeds. While these are delicious substitutes in winter months, Valencia oranges are perfectly ripe at the moment and you’ll get a lot of juice out of this variety.
This dish combines elements from three of my favorite parts of the world. Mediterranean red mullet with French olives and Valencia oranges make for the perfect summer evening meal.
Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind twenty-four restaurants including Eataly, DelPosto, and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in Downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!