For the pilaf


  • STEP 1

    Using a very sharp filleting knife, make a cut at the head on a slant, then turn the fish and cut under the dorsal (top) fin.

  • STEP 2

    Press the fish down firmly with one hand, bending it slightly along the back so that the flesh is taut. Then slide the knife in at the top of the backbone.

  • STEP 3

    Cut down against the rib cage at a downward slant. Letting the knife do the work, push the tip against the centre of the bone, working your way down to the tail. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side.

  • STEP 4

    Trim the fillets neatly. Remove the pin bones using your fingernails or tweezers. In the restaurant kitchen, we use a straight-sided potato peeler, hooking the bone head and twisting it out. After filleting and pin-boning, pat dry (do not rinse or you’ll lose flavour).

  • STEP 5

    Thinly slice the shallots, garlic and carrots. Quarter and core the fennel then slice the fennel quarters as thinly as you can – use a mandolin, if possible.

  • STEP 6

    Heat 3 tbsp oil in a sauté frying pan and fry the vegetables together for 5 mins with the saffron, cardamom and bay leaf.

  • STEP 7

    Add 2 tbsp oil and continue cooking for 5 mins. Season well, remove from the heat and stir in the tomatoes, vinegar, 3 tbsp oil, and coriander.

  • STEP 8

    Heat 2 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying pan and, when hot, lay in the fillets, skin-side down. Season and cook for 2 mins, then carefully turn and cook for 1-2 mins – but no more, the flesh should be slightly undercooked. Remove from the heat.

  • STEP 9

    Tip half the vegetables into a shallow dish, lay the fillets on top, then cover with the remaining vegetables.

  • STEP 10

    Leave to marinate for 10 mins before serving warm. Prepare up to this point up to 1 day ahead and keep in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.

  • STEP 11

    Soak the rice in cold water for 5 mins, then drain well and tip into a bowl. Mix in the grated zests. Add all the spices. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Make a cartouche (see tip below).

  • STEP 12

    Heat oil in an ovenproof casserole, then sauté onion for 5 mins. Add rice and wine, boil until evaporated, then add the stock. Bring to the boil.

  • STEP 13

    Top with the cartouche and a well-fitting lid. Bake for 20 mins, then take out of the oven, uncover, fork the grains, re-cover. Leave to stand for 5 mins, then serve.


Look for very bright red gills (under the flaps by the eyes) and eyes that are still prominent, bright and not sunken. The skin should be shiny and moist and smell fresh.


Red mullet has a lot of scales, but they are very soft and can be pulled off with your fingertips. Do this into a plastic bag. It is easier to fillet a fish that still has its guts because this makes the body firmer. To keep the fish steady on the board as you work, you can sit it on a clean J-cloth. Look out for specialist filleting knives – the blade should be really flexible (see left) which helps getting into tricky corners. Make sure you sharpen it regularly.


Red mullet bones make delicious stock, so save the bones, but gut the fish after filleting and remove the eyes from the head. The bones freeze well if you want to make stock later.


Soaking the rice makes the grains lighter and quicker to cook. Covering the rice with a cartouche (see below), helps to seal in the steam during cooking and keeps it moist. Top the pan with a well-fitting lid, too. Leave the rice to rest for at least 5 mins after baking make it fluffy.


Take some greaseproof paper, large enough to cover the pan. Fold into quarters, then fold twice again to make a pointed triangle. Place the point at the centre of the pan base, measure where the edge of the pan comes to and tear to fit. Unfold to reveal a circle just the right size.


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