Μπαρμπούνι μου θαλασσινό και ψάρι του πελάγου όσο μποράς φυλάγου, αχ ψάρι του πελάγου.
Το μάθανε πως σ’ αγαπώ κι όσο μποράς φυλάγου, αχ ψάρι του πελάγου,, όσο μποράς φυλάγου.
Μπαρμπούνι μου θαλασσινό κι ολόχρυσό μου ψάρι, κρίμα είν’ εγώ, να σ’ αγαπώ και άλλη να σε πάρει
The Greek text above is a verse of an ode to the red mullet that I cannot possibly translate without making it sound silly. ” My beautiful red mullet of the sea, watch yourself. They know I love you, so watch yourself. It is a pity that I love you so much and someone else enjoys you.” There, at least I tried.
I always thought that the red mullet (barbouni in Greek) was our “national fish” ! It is definitely swimming in the Aegean, the Ionian and the Cretan seas and Greeks always enjoy it fried or flame broiled in the late summer months, after the strong north winds of the sea (meltemia) subside. In reality the red mullet swims all over the Mediterranean Sea and at the European coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. So people from many countries go fishing for red mullets and they prepare it their own different ways. The red mullet has (in my opinion) the tastiest meat of all fish. But only when you taste it you can tell. A red mullet does not get bigger than 10 inches and it can be as small as 4 inches. By tradition the large fish are broiled and the small are fried.
The red mullet is an expensive fish but it’s rare taste brings it all over northern Europe and as far as I know in New York too. I once found red mullets in Rockville in the Washington Area. I was so excited that I immediately called my few Greek friends to tell them.
The small and medium red mullets are dipped in flour mixed with salt and pepper and fried for a few minutes in hot olive oil until they are light golden brown. The best dressing is just fresh lemon. The usual side dish is boiled greens such as dandelions, or hand cut fries. The fried small barbouni may be eaten as is, without removing the bones or the head and the tail , as everything is so tender. They say that Greek cats do not know the taste of the red mullet because people never leave anything. I personally do not eat the head or the bones, but I am one of the few.
The large fish are flame broiled or pan seared until done and served with a dressing of olive oil and lemon. With the broiled red mullets I like steamed vegetables (zucchini and potatoes mainly) or a ripe tomato salad.
The leftover fried fish may be dipped in a thick sauce made of olive oil, flour , garlic, red wine vinegar, and rosemary. The fish marinate a little in this sauce and they taste extraordinary. We call these “barbounia marinata”, and my mom purposely was frying more fish the first day so that we always have leftovers.
I have eaten barbouni fillets in other places in the world. In Costa del Sol in a tapas place, in Southern France on couscous, in Paris just one filet perfectly juicy and flaky, and in Vienna in a fancy restaurant as part of an amuse bouche creation, probably the best bite in Vienna. In southern France and particularly in Nice the red mullet is part of the traditional Bouillabaisse prepared in amphora shaped clay pots.
I stay faithful to the traditional Greek ways and I try to enjoy them the summers when I visit Greece.
The image above is taken from the blog of from the blog of dear Panathinaeos who recently fried red mullets for a group of friends.