Rouget Barbet is the celebrity of the local Cannes fishes. The fillets are small and pretty, with a wonderfully special taste. In English they are called ‘Red Mullet,’ which sounds much less sophisticated, doesn’t it?
When Balthus and I were in Ohio, I don’t remember this fish. Depravity! If you are lucky enough to find it, I think the most excellent way of preparing it is simply. Beg your fishmonger to filet and scale it, to avoid the nuisance and the shower of sequin-like scales. Then just get your grill or frying pan nice and hot, add a splash of olive oil and cook it skin-side down on high heat. Don’t bother to cook the other side. The fillets are so small and thin they will cook without turning them over. The key is to get the skin side perfectly crispy.
There are plenty of fancy recipes for Rouget Barbet. I prefer not to tamper with it too much, but Balthus likes it as I suggest below, with some nice Provençal black olive Tapenade.
Be sure to look for The New Adventures of Chef & Chat in Grand Seigneur magazine, from Technikart. It’s an extraordinary magazine rich in articles about the food scene. Balthus and I will provide a small adventure in each issue, with a really good recipe. In the next Grand Seigneur, we fight Evil Chickens (with teeth) and make a salmon soufflé.
Count at least three small Rouget Barbet fillets for each person.
Turn the fillets skin-side down and spread a spoonful of Tapenade on the fleshy side. Heat a heavy grill pan or skillet to high. Brush oil on the surface so the fish skin won’t stick, and cook, skin side down, until you see the flesh turning from white to opaque. Depending on size and thickness, this will take two or three minutes. Keep them slightly undercooked. Turn them onto a serving plate, crispy delicious skin-side up. Balthus likes to trickle a little Balsamic vinegar or basil Pesto sauce over them, but the Tapenade alone makes for tasty eating.