In Greece, there are big fish and there are little fish. The big fish are usually grilled and the small fish usually get fried. There are always some exceptions but one fish that’s usually fried is the red mullet – prized for its firm but sweet meat that also holds up well to frying. Red Mullet (barbouni or barbounia) are rosy with gold iridescence and a straight fronted head. The ancient Greeks regarded them as sacred and Romans paid steep prices to watch their colour turn from red to gold. Here in North America you may find the goat fish, a relative of the red mullet but more gold in colour and with lots of pin bones – fussy to clean.
Red Mullet are found throughout the Mediterranean and on occasion found here in North American markets. When I found this fish at one of the fish mongers I frequent, I had to pick up a kilo and fry them off just as I remembered from summers past in Greece. The usual way to cook red mullet is to salt them then dredge in all-purpose flour and fry them in olive oil and simply serve on a platter with wedges of lemon.
Today’s dish goes one step further with the remaining oil being used to make a sauce that’s poured over the fish upon serving. The sauce is finished with wine vinegar and it was a means of preserving fish in the old days when there were no fridges. Savoro dishes were also popular with fishermen who would preserve a glut of fish with these means (pity to throw perfectly good fish away) and if this method sounds like “escabeche” you’re right – same method!
I first had Savoro in Crete two summers ago and the lady of the house used bogue but red mullet is the most commonly used fish. I’ve recipes that appeal to those seeking instant gratification (eaten immediately) and the more drawn-out Savoro dishes where the fish pickles in the sauce for a few days before being eaten. There’s Savroro from the Ionian Islands, Aegean and even Cypriot! Few will argue that the word Savoro came from Savoy and likely brought over from Venetian sailors through a dish called “Pesce in Saor” – marinated/preserved fish carried on the ships.
My approach to Savoro is clearly in the direction of the “instant gratification” crowd with the fish being eaten immediately after the sauce is poured on top. After the fish are gutted, scaled and rinsed I salt them and allow to sit for 20 minutes so the fish gets seasoned well. After I dredge them in flour then shallow fry in olive oil…only extra-virgin olive oil. After the fish is fried I set them aside and in the same skillet goes the whole sprigs of rosemary then garlic and as soon as you see the garlic starting to change colour, the vinegar is added and then reduced until the sauce becomes tangy, slighty sweet. Pour the Savoro sauce over the fish along with the garlic and crisp rosemary.
Red Mullet Savoro Style
2 lbs. of whole red mullet, scaled & gutted
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup of all purpose flour
up to 1/3 cup for frying + 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil for sauce
6-7 sprigs fresh rosemary
7-8 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- Season the cavity of of fish and both sides with sea salt and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Add 1/3 cup olive oil into the pan over medium-high heat and dredge the fish in flour. When your oil is hot, add the fish in batches and fry for about 4-5 minutes a side or until just golden and reserve on a serving platter.
- In the same pan, discard the frying oil, wipe the pan, add remaining olive, add the sprigs of rosemary and fry until just crisp and they’ve turned to an olive green. Now add the garlic and swirl around and as soon as you can see the garlic turn colour and you can smell it – add the wine vinegar and stir and reduce until the sauce has become slightly sweet (shouldn’t be sour).
- Pour the sauce over the fish (along with garlic and rosemary) and serve immediately.
- Pour the sauce over the fish (along with garlic and rosemary) and serve immediately. Serve with a potato salad, some boiled vlita (wild greens) and a crisp bottle of Domaine Gavalas Malvazia from Crete.
© 2012 – 2016,
. All rights reserved.