This dish is typical of Roman home cooking, but it may seem a little strange to the American cook because of the order in which the fish is prepared. The rouget (or red mullet) is cooked first, then marinated. Stick with it, however, as the marinade changes the texture of the fish and the flavors literally meld together, forming poetry in your mind (continue reading here).
Serves 4 people
4 to 5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 to 2 ½ pounds small fish such as rouget, cleaned, scaled, and heads removed
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a small saucepan, combine the garlic, mint, and vinegar and bring just to boil over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to below a simmer and leave the aromatics to steep in the vinegar.
Spread the flour on a plate and dredge the fish lightly in it. In a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, heat ½ cup of the olive oil over medium high heat until smoking. Add the fish, in batches, and cook, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Discard the oil and wipe out the pan. Add the remaining ½ cup of the olive oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Add the fish, in batches, and cook, turning once, until golden brown and just cooked through. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Strain the vinegar into a small bowl, reserving the garlic and mint. Layer the fish on a glass or ceramic dish just large enough to hold them, distributing the reserved garlic and mint over them. Combine the warm vinegar and the warmed oil, and pour over the fish.
Cover the dish and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.