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I had my first smoked mullet as a teenager, prepared by Reddin Brunson, a retired commercial fisherman and a friend of my father’s. It was one of those “where-has-this-been-all-my-life” moments. Since then, smoked mullet has been one of my favorite treats. There are some restaurants and seafood stores that serve it, but it’s not that hard to do yourself.
The first order of business, obviously, is to get the mullet. Personally, I like to throw my net off the docks and bridges over here in Pensacola or around the oyster bars down at Spring Creek. However, the most reliable method I’ve discovered is throwing my wallet on the counter at Joe Patti’s Seafood.
No matter how or where you get the mullet, you want to have them butterflied for smoking. To do it yourself, leave the scales on and slice the mullet down either side of its backbone so that you end up with two fillets connected by the belly. Some folks leave the backbone in, but I like to follow my brother Bill’s method and take it out so the fillets will smoke more evenly. Also, the backbones don’t take as long to cook and can be served as an appetizer.
Smoking the mullet is a pretty straightforward affair. Ideally, you want them firm and flaky, but as long as they wind up somewhere between sushi and jerky they’ll be good. What can make them great is the right marinade or baste.
My friend Andy Jones has an excellent recipe that he shared with me recently. Andy melts butter and adds an equal amount of Worcestershire sauce. Then he stirs in lemon juice, Crystal hot sauce, Lawry’s seasoned salt and cayenne pepper, all to taste. He brushes that on the mullet once before they hit the smoker and regularly while they’re cooking. In addition to the flavor it adds, the baste also keeps the mullet from drying out as much.
Once you have your mullet smoked, you can serve them as is or with some melted butter. You can also use them for this simple but tasty dip that my friend Bill Muldoon makes. It’s nothing fancy, but don’t plan on having leftovers.
To make what I’m going to call Muldoon Dip, start with all the mullet you have the willpower to leave uneaten. Pick out the meat and put it in a mixing bowl. Add finely diced onions and celery. Mix in some mayonnaise until you get the consistency you want, then season it with lemon juice, cracked pepper and Cajun seasoning.
Of course you can play around with both of these recipes, adjust the ingredients and come up with something you like better. As long as you start off or end up with smoked mullet, you really can’t go wrong.