by Nichole Osinski
Mahi-mahi, dolphin, dorado, Coryphaena hippurus, whatever you call it, this fish is a favorite among those who like to eat what they catch. Whether you’re out on the boat wanting an easy-to-make meal or at home and in the mood for a more complicated dish, bringing mahi to the table is always a win in our book. This surface-dwelling fish is a versatile protein that isn’t limited to a single style of cooking.
Whether it’s fried, grilled, blackened or just served as part of a larger dish, mahi doesn’t disappoint. To help with some cooking inspiration, we rounded up some of the experts, who not only excel in the kitchen but out on the water as well. From Creole-style spice to crispy fried veggies, there’s little that doesn’t work well with this versatile, delicious creature. So sit back and grab a pen and paper because you’re going to want to try these recipes the next time you reel in a dorado.
An Onboard Father-Daughter Mahi Recipe
Leslie Douglas and her father, Frank Nalty, owner of Nalty’s Southern Seasoning, are no strangers when it comes to reeling in and cooking up dolphin. Frank and Leslie like to catch, fillet and then cook their mahi all while they’re still on the water, with Frank switching between captain and chef. The father and daughter provide a simple on-the-go recipe that any boater can use. Better yet, the recipe even incorporates a bit of their own style.
To make it, all you’ll you need is a boat, some luck, and a little bit of southern seasoning. What makes this recipe even better is that the ingredients can easily be increased or decreased, depending on your individual taste. “It’s a light fish, and I think it’s simple to cook. I cook it all the time,” Leslie says in reference to mahi. “It’s more of a clean fish, meaning it’s not as fishy tasting; there’s not a strong taste to it.”
- Mahi fillets
- 1 stick of butter (salted or unsalted)
- ½ fresh lemon
- ½ tsp Nalty’s Southern Seasoning
- Dress with oil and vinegar to taste
Nalty’s Dolphin Recipe: Leslie’s Take
Skin and fillet the dolphin you’ve just caught—any size will work. Leslie recommends cutting the slabs into strips. While the grill is heating, melt the butter. Leslie likes to use a stick of butter to fully cover the fillets but says you can use less depending on your preference.
Next, place the butter in a bowl and squeeze the half lemon into it. Next, add the half teaspoon of Nalty’s Southern Seasoning to the lemon juice and butter. Frank suggests the Nalty’s Creole Seasoning for some extra kick. If it turns out that you’d like more spice, just add more seasoning.
Mix all the ingredients together then dip the fish into the mixture, coating it evenly. Once the fish is seasoned and the grill is ready, grill your dolphin. When the fillet begins to turn white, flip it to ensure that it cooks evenly. You’ll know when the fish is ready for eating when it starts to flake.
Leslie says that you can also use the butter/lemon seasoning mixture as a dipping sauce for your mahi once it’s cooked. She does recommend, however, making a fresh batch rather than using the same mixture you’ve dunked your raw fillets into. This works especially well if you prefer to grill your dolphin on its own but like some extra flavor at the table.
Nalty’s Dolphin Recipe: Frank’s Take
Frank adds a slight deviation to the dolphin recipe. Nalty recommends covering the dolphin in Italian dressing (he likes Ken’s Steak House Italian Dressing or a homemade oil and vinegar mixture) before grilling. You don’t need to drown the fish, he recommends using just enough to cover the portions. The vinegar in the dressing acts as a tenderizer.
Once covered in dressing, season the fish with Nalty’s Creole Seasoning (½ teaspoon or more, depending on how much heat you can take and how much fish you are cooking) and grill. For Frank, this easy-to-master recipe just requires you to, “Catch the fish, clean it and throw some tenderizer on while getting the grill started.”
Chef Redneck’s Take on Dolphin
Native South Carolinian Capt. Jamie Hough, dubbed The Chef Redneck, has a longstanding record in both the culinary world and sportfishing industry. In short, Jamie knows a thing or two about coming up with a mahi-mahi dish. The MasterChef contestant cut his teeth as a charter guy at Bud ‘N Mary’s in Islamorada back in the 90s and early 2000s.
Chef/Captain Jamie’s first step is a familiar one—he skins his dolphin by drawing an outline and pulling the skin off. “That’s just how I’ve always done it,” Hough explains. “At that point, I cut the bloodline out of the fillet essentially making four fillets from one fish.”
As for his choice in dolphin, Jamie prefers smaller fish because, like most species, they taste better than the larger ones. “There’s nothing wrong with the big ones, they’re just not as sweet. Also, the thicker a fillet is, the harder it is to cook evenly.” As for what newbies to cooking this fish should know? Simply put, fresh is always better than frozen.
Captain Jamie Hough’s Bahamian Style Dolphin Salad
“One of my favorite things on God’s great Earth is Bahamian conch salad! More specifically, the conch salad we make in Hope Town on Elbow Cay in the Abacos. This is why I leave out the tomatoes…”
What does conch salad have to do with dolphin, he asks? Nothing, unless you substitute mahi for the conch! “I like to use really thin slivers of the fish,” Hough says. Chef Jamie’s preparations are exact. “Take a fillet, cut it length ways down the side of the bloodline almost all the way to the stringy bottom side of the fillet. Then, turn the knife sideways and cut all the way to the outside as if you are cutting a ‘tenderloin’ out of each side of the fillet. That’s your sweet meat so to speak.”
“Thinly slice the fish and put to the side. I like my conch salad and my dolphin ceviche with a lot of citrus liquid. If you’re only using lime juice, then you don’t want it too soupy. But if you make it with all three of these citrus fruits (orange, lemon and lime), put some extra juice in the bowl! Trust me!”
- 6-8 ounces of cleaned, fresh dolphin
- 12-15 key limes, juiced (you can use regular limes but you’ll have to marinate the fish for much longer as the key limes have elevated acid levels that “cook” the fish more rapidly)
- 3 sour oranges or blood oranges, juiced
- 2 lemons, juiced
*The key here is mixing the juices together in a separate bowl. You want to be able to taste the citrus but you don’t want to be able to tell which citrus it is. You don’t want to taste more of any of the three!
- 1 tbsp of orange zest
- 1 tsp of lime zest
- 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1 medium red onion, halved, then very thinly sliced. I suggest using a mandolin.
- 1/2 tbsp of kosher salt.
- “Secret ingredient:” 1/4 tsp of chili powder. Mix together and refrigerate for at least 2 hours but overnight is ok too.
- Lastly, add 1/4 tbsp of sugar to help cut the acid before you eat it. Hough notes that this helps if you have heartburn!
This recipe makes four servings for normal people or one serving for somebody who really loves ceviche. The quantities of these ingredients can vary based on your personal preference. This recipe can also be used as a baseline for you to add to, but’s it’s pretty perfect as it is. Enjoy!
Now, here is the tough part. Finding the right amount of “goat pepper” or habanero. Halve and remove the seeds, then very finely mince. Everyone likes different levels of heat and every pepper is different. Add just a little at a time to the ceviche and taste. Let sit for 10 minutes, stir and taste again. Add more until you have reached the desirable heat level.
If you want to bump it up a notch, add some scallops, shrimp or even some thinly sliced octopus! You can also add tomatoes if you like. If you do, Jamie suggests really ripe plum tomatoes.
Fried Mahi-Mahi With Veggies From Punta Cana
On the far eastern side of the Dominican Republic, Captain Melvin Acosta and the Santa Elena Fishing Charters team have their own spin on cooking mahi. Melvin, who has worn the title of chef as well as captain, is a veteran of the Punta Cana charter scene.
Melvin’s experience has not only imparted expertise as a sportsfisherman but also aptitude in the culinary side of the equation. One of Capt. Melvin’s specialties is fried mahi-mahi with mixed vegetables. This dish is not only a hit due to its flavor but because the fish is rich in potassium, high in iron, is a valuable source of Omega-3 fatty acids, a whole bunch of B Vitamins and, of course, protein.
Captain Melvin Acosta’s Fried Dolphin with Vegetables
Makes 6 servings, cooking time 1 hour
- Dolphin fillet (roughly 35 ounces)
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp red pepper
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ cup flour
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup large breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup vegetable oil for frying the mahi
- 3 medium-sized carrots
- 8 garlic cloves
- • ½ onion
- 2 bell peppers
- 2 serrano peppers
- 21 ounces Bok Choy
- 2 medium-sized tomatoes
- 7 ounces green peas in pods
- 4 tsp vegetable oil for frying vegetables
- 3.5 tbsp soy sauce
- 3.5 tbsp chili pepper sauce
Fillet your dolphin, or buy a ready-made fillet if you haven’t been fishing lately. Cut the fillet into portions of uniform size, sprinkle on salt, black and red pepper and paprika. Cover the fish and refrigerate for two or three hours.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pan at medium temperature. Next, roll the pieces of fish in flour, then dip in egg whites and again roll in
Next, in a pan, fry fish until browned on both sides. Remove fried fish and pat with paper towels, set aside to cool.
Chop carrots, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers into large pieces. Mince garlic. Do not chop up the bok choy, fry it whole with peas and serrano peppers.
Next, heat a new frying pan with the vegetable oil over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the vegetables and stir lightly into the oil. Do not overcook the vegetables but make sure they are crispy.
Remove vegetables and mix with soy sauce and chili sauce. Serve the fish and vegetables together. Buen provecho from the Dominican Republic.
What Wine Pairs Best with Fried Dolphin?
The Santa Elena Fishing Charters team notes that a low-fat fish such as Mahi-Mahi matches well with white wines that have a rich taste and low acidity. Wine aged in a barrel gives a sweet hint of vanilla and caramel and also makes the wine more gentle and friendly to light dishes, such as this one. Among the grape varieties, Capt. Melvin and his team recommend chardonnay, viognier or verdejo.
Keys Grilled Dolphin
Few places in the U.S. are as popular for sportfishing as the Florida Keys. Angler Bill Kennedy can attest to this personally. Kennedy not only frequently fishes the waters that surround the Keys, but he regularly catches dolphin here.
Many of those dolphin are caught while onboard the Fantastic II, a Keys charter which Kennedy says never returns empty-handed. If Kennedy’s not out fishing, or enjoying some dolphin fingers at Islamorada’s Ocean View Inn & Sports Pub, there’s a good chance he’s getting ready to cook up his fresh catch.
When he reels in mahi, Bill has a five-ingredient recipe that would make any angler eager to head to this southernmost part of Florida. As for the mahi itself, he prefers a portion of no more than four inches wide. Kennedy also notes that a seasoned pro will also remove the mahi cheeks, preferably from a bull mahi, and add this “primo” part of the fish to his dinner
The steps of cooking and preparation.
- Olive oil
- Old Bay seasoning
- Everglades seasoning
- Cracked pepper
- Fresh Lemon
Heat grill to about 350 degrees. Coat the fillets with extra virgin olive oil. Dust fillets with Old Bay and Everglades seasonings and a pinch of cracked pepper. Add a twist of lemon spritz and grill for approximately eight to 10 minutes.
To test when the fish is ready—he prefers medium rare—Bill recommends treating the fillet like a steak by using the spring-back method: the meat should “spring back” when touched. Another way he’ll test the fish’s readiness is by using an instant-read thermometer looking for a temperature of around 120 to 125 degrees.
Opting for the Oven
If Kennedy does decide to use the oven instead of the grill, he’ll follow the same instructions with a slight modification. Instead of coating the fish in olive oil, he’ll place the mahi in aluminum foil while making sure the foil is wide and high around the fish, leaving space around the meat as it cooks. Cook for roughly eight to 10 minutes at 350 degrees, and the mahi will be ready for the dinner table.