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Mahi Mahi: A Fish So Nice They Named It Twice

How to Choose, Store, and Prepare This Delicious, Versatile Fish

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A Delicious Dish of Mahi Mahi with Red Curry Sauce Photographed by Naotake Murayama

Mahi Mahi with Red Curry Sauce

Naotake Murayama/Creative Commons

If you ever spot a sign at a fish market that reads 'Fresh Dolphin', your first reaction may be to gasp in horror at the thought of Flipper fillets. But there’s no cause for alarm. In fact, it might be cause to fire up the grill!

Even though the brightly-colored mahi mahi is occasionally seen labeled 'Dolphin', it’s very much a fish, and is completely unrelated to dolphins and porpoises, which are not fish at all but air-breathing marine mammals.

But whether it’s called Dolphin or mahi mahi (or Dolphinfish or Dorado) you’ll call it delicious! Mahi mahi is a versatile fish that produces excellent results using just about any cooking method. The mild, sweet flesh – which starts off pinkish but turns white as it cooks – is very lean but also quite moist and flavorful.

In addition to their culinary qualities, mahi mahi are highly regarded among game fishermen for the powerful and dramatic fight they put up when hooked, often tearing through the water at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. In fact, 'mahi' is the Hawaiian word for 'strong', so the name 'mahi mahi' is a big hint as to just how formidable they can be.

Mahi mahi live in warm southern waters throughout the world and grow quickly, reaching market size in the first year. But they don’t stop there. Fishermen regularly catch 20 and 30 pounders, with some tipping the scales even higher: the Florida state record mahi mahi was over 77 pounds!

One of my favorite ways to prepare mahi mahi is to brush it with homemade chimichurri sauce and broil it, but you can also grill it, pan-fry it, skewer it, steam it, and more. Cut into strips and battered, it even makes a tasty tempura. Try it in any recipe that calls for tilapia or catfish and you’re in for a real treat.

So give mahi mahi a try next time you’re in the market for fish. You’ll be happi happi you did!

Flavor and Texture Profile:

  • Mild and sweet. Medium-firm when raw; tender when cooked.

What to Look for in the Store:
  • Mahi mahi should never feel mushy or smell fishy. Look for moist, resilient fillets or steaks that have a fresh, almost neutral scent.
  • Mahi mahi, whether fresh or frozen, is pink with red stripes/spots and occasional light brown or bluish tinges.
  • Avoid fish with a dull color or dark brown areas (especially along the edges), as these may indicate age and the beginnings of spoilage. Dark red blood lines or spots are okay, but should be trimmed before cooking for a milder flavor.
  • Skin should be moist-looking and shiny, not dry and lifeless. Skin color can range from silver to dark gray, with small black spots and yellow or golden streaks.

Handling and Storage:
  • Most mahi mahi will be free of bones, but any you do find are likely to be large and long. They can be cut out, but it’s much easier (and less damaging to fillets) to just remove them after cooking.
  • Fresh mahi mahi can be stored tightly wrapped in the coldest part of the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Mahi mahi freezes well and will keep for several months if properly wrapped and bagged.

Preparation:
  • Mahi mahi is a lean fish, so take care not to overcook it or it will dry out. Depending on thickness, it will only need 3-4 minutes per side to cook through.
  • Leave the skin on if you’re planning to grill mahi mahi fillets, as they will hold together better during grilling. Cook them skin side down on a moderately hot grill and turn them carefully. For skinless fillets, use a flat grilling basket.

Nutrition, Safety, And Sustainability:
  • Mahi mahi is a good source of lean protein, with just 145 calories per 6 ounce serving, 31 grams of protein and 1 gram of fat.
  • Because they are a fast-growing fish with a relatively short life cycle (about 4-5 years), mahi mahi tend to be lower in mercury and other potentially harmful substances than some slow-growing fish that have longer environmental exposure.
  • Troll-caught and rod-and-reel caught mahi mahi, especially those from Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific coast, are considered a good choice. Long-line caught mahi mahi are a less desirable choice (due to by-catch issues) and should be avoided.
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