BRADENTON -- Mullet can be found just about anywhere in Florida. Yet, despite its large presence, the local fish is not found on many dinner plates around here.
While the roe from mullet is considered a delicacy in other countries, the fish does not have the same status here.
Ed Chiles, owner of the Chiles Restaurant Group, which includes the Sandbar in Anna Maria, the Beachhouse in Bradenton Beach, and the Mar Vista Dockside on Longboat Key, is hoping to give mullet an image makeover.
Chiles, who has a long passion for preserving the heritage of Florida and Manatee County, has been working to change the negative perception that surrounds mullet.
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"In the old days, people used to think lobster was trash seafood and grouper was trash fish, 40 to 50 years ago,” said Chiles. “We have the ultimate sustainable seafood in our backyard."
Chiles said in addition to mullet being found in abundance throughout Florida, in coastal rivers and bays and along our sandy beaches, gray-striped mullet is high in lipid fats and omega-3 oils.
He said it’s arguably the most sustainable, organic seafood resource in the state, and it tastes delicious.
"It’s a wonderful fish and it has great flavor," he said.
Chiles said 90 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported and 50 percent of that is aquaculture. He wants to change that.
To help, Chiles has teamed up with Captain Anthony Manali, who casts his nets off the coast of Anna Maria Island.
"There’s a bunch of mullet," Manali said. "There’s lots and lots of mullet."
Manali said on a typical day, you can catch 300 to 800 pounds of the fish. Manali catches the mullet and provides Chiles’ restaurants with the freshly-caught fish.
The chefs at Chiles’ restaurants then prepare the mullet, and serve it smoked, fried, grilled, blackened and as a fish dip.
"They’re serving fresh fish that I caught that morning in the restaurant," Manali said. "That’s unheard of."
So far, customers are loving it.
David and Adrianne Roe, who were visiting from California, admit while looking over the menu at Mar Vista they were a little hesitant to try the mullet listed on the menu.
"I don’t know anyone that’s ever eaten it," said David.
But the two gave it a chance. To their surprise, they enjoyed it.
"I’m really impressed, I think it’s really good," Adrienne said.
"I think it’s delicious," said David.
To extend the use and benefit of mullet, Chiles also joined Seth Cripe to form the Anna Maria Fish Company, the first and only company in the United States certified to produce bottarga.
Bottarga is the cured form of mullet roe. It's a delicacy prized in Europe and Asia selling at retail for up to $100 a pound.
The company produces more than 1,500 pounds of bottarga each year.