Striped Mullet, considered a trash fish by many, is actually one of the most valuable fish in the Gulf of Mexico region, especially in Florida. These unadorned fish make their migratory run offshore every year in the beginning Fall to spawn from November to January. And its only during this season, the female mullet roe are highly priced, which can be worth over $100 a pound at retail once cured & dried.
How Mullet Roe is Cured
Processing the roe varies from country to country, but generally always involves a curing and dehydration process. Roes are generously salted and refrigerated for about an hour, and then pressed to form a more uniform shape to achieve a consistent shape to optimize dehydration either by direct sunlight or in a dehydrator. If you want to learn the whole process, scroll down to watch my video.
Who Eats Mullet Roe?
Although mullet roe is not commonly eaten in the US, it is considered a delicacy overseas. For example, in Japan, its called Karasumi, and often eaten while drinking sake. In the Mediterranean, it’s called Bottarga, which is a more dehydrated version and can be grated over dishes like pasta. In Taiwan, it is often seared with whiskey and cut into sashimi slices and eaten with radish. The photo below is a product I made that was exposed to direct sunlight for about 5 days.
What Does Karasumi Taste Like?
In Asia, Karasumi is eaten “as is” or lightly seared or fully cooked, and served without any dipping sauce. In the photo below, the flavor of the fully baked roe (on the bottom) is very savory with a strong pungent aroma (not for everyone). In my opinion, the texture is comparable to that of cooked crab or lobster roe. The seared one (on the top) on the other hand, is milder and has a softer texture. Personally, I enjoy it fully cooked because it truly brings out the intensity of the flavor much more.
Karasumi is highly sought after and often given as gifts. Price varies dependent on the different shades, and typically the brighter and more golden roes command a premium versus the darker shades (Darker roes consist of more mature eggs). In Asia, the final products are not dried out as long compared to the Mediterranean, thus the roes tend to retain more water content.
Where Are Mullets Found?
Black Mullet are caught commercially in the Gulf of Mexico region, in the coastal waters of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas. These mullet can also be found on the Atlantic coast past the Carolinas.
This is a coastal fish that often lives in estuaries and freshwater environments. Larger fish often form huge schools near the surface over sandy or muddy bottoms. They migrate offshore to spawn during Winter, in schools that can stretch over 100 yards. This is the time, when many costal residents witness fishermen throwing cast nets over the side of their boats and pulling up fish by the thousands. Sometimes yielding over 100lbs of fish in a SINGLE THROW!
How Much Are Mullets Worth?
Female mullets (red roe) during spawning season commands a premium over the male’s silver roe. Typically, whole female mullets garner over $1.25 a pound at wholesale, while the males only go for about 20 cent a pound (often sold as cut bait). There has been stories in the past where a crew of two can make several $1000’s on a good day.
In the chart below, shows the commercial landings of striped mullet harvested from the Gulf of Mexico Region since 2000. The commercial landings databases were compiled from the NOAA Fisheries website. The Gulf States supplied 81 percent of the striped mullet in the United States valued at about $10 million per year from 2008 to 2016.
The vast majority of the catches are due to the demand for female red roe for international buyers. Its too bad there isn’t much of a domestic demand for this awesome product (Although there are some entrepreneurs in the states trying to create a market). The fish are processed in a commercial fish house, where the roe are frozen and shipped to Asia where they’ll be salt cured, pressed, and either sun dried or dehydrated in a machine.
Most Comprehensive Online Sushi Course
If want to learn more about making sushi, check out my online sushi course on Udemy. There are over 40 video lectures and resources to help you get started making sushi at home. Learn Sushi Online.