Pan Seared Mahi Mahi

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Mahi mahi, also known as dorado, or, in some places dolphin fish, is a quintessential fish of summertime in warm places — or vacation if you’re in the Caribbean or Mexico. I love pan seared mahi mahi because you can get such a great crisp on one side without overcooking the fish.

I’ll walk you through the technique, which works with a number of different kinds of fish, as well as give you the recipe for the rice pilaf the mahi mahi is served with, and the simple salsa.

Pan seared mahi mahi with rice and salsa
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Mahi mahi, Coryphaena hippurus, is a pelagic saltwater fish that is immensely fun to catch — they’re hard fighters — sustainable because they are plentiful and grow very fast, and especially tasty seared or grilled. They are a global species.

Most people do not eat the skin of mahi mahi because it is very tough, to the point you can make belts out of it. And unless you have little ones, you will almost always be working with fillets. I like to trim those fillets into nice blocks to serve as pan seared mahi mahi, and then I use that trim in my poke recipe in place of tuna.

Pan searing, put simply, is a hot and fast cooking process where you use a small amount of high smoke-point oil (canola, grapeseed, rice bran, safflower, etc.) to blast the flat side of the fish — the one that used to have the skin on it — until it is well browned and crispy. As that happens, you baste the exposed side with the oil to cook it more gently.

If the piece of fish is less than 1 inch thick, you never flip it. It will cook through nicely just from the basting.

Some keys to success are:

  • Salt the fish 30 minutes before you cook it.
  • Pat the fish dry using paper towels.
  • Heat the pan thoroughly before you add the oil. The thinner the fish the hotter the heat. A normal piece of mahi mahi will want medium-high. Anything thicker than 1 inch goes down to medium.
  • Add the oil and swirl to coat. When is just barely begins to smoke, place the fish skin side down, or in the case of pan seared mahi mahi, the side that used to have the skin.
  • The moment the fish hits the pan, give the pan a little jiggle so the fish slides on the oil before searing. This helps prevent it from being cemented to your pan.
  • Start basting the fish immediately, tilting the pan to spoon the oil over the fish. Baste until it turns opaque.
  • Don’t move the fish until it wants to be moved. That is usually once you see a significant crust from where fish meets pan. If you have to scrape the fish off the pan, it’s not ready. Be patient.
  • When you remove the fish, let it rest seared side up. Grind pepper over it the moment it hits the cutting board or plate.

That’s really all I do with this mahi mahi. It’s the sides that make the dish.

The salsa is really just a standard pico de gallo with cucumbers added: Cucumbers (I use English ones, the ones wrapped in plastic), tomatoes, white onion, bell or jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and maybe a clove of garlic. You want something like this to brighten things up.

A plate of pan seared mahi mahi with rice and salsa
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

The rice dish is super cool. It’s called Moors and Christians, and I learned about it from the amazing cookbook Gran Cocina Latina, by Maricel Presilla. It’s a Cuban dish of long grain rice and black beans where you cook the rice in the bean broth. My recipe is based off Presilla’s but is a little simpler. It is a perfect compliment to the pan seared mahi mahi.

If you want to serve this as part of a larger Caribbean feast, try my Caribbean fish stew, or the Yucatecan stew chocolomo to go along with your mahi.

Pan seared mahi mahi with rice and salsa
5 from 6 votes

Pan Seared Mahi Mahi

This recipe works with really any good slab of fish fillet. You want something at least 1/2 inch thick, so larger fish are the rule here.
Course: Main Course, Rice
Cuisine: Caribbean
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients 

RICE

  • 1 cup black beans
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 onion
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 1 poblano or green bell pepper, minced
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup sherry or cider vinegar

SALSA

  • 1 cucumber, peeled if the skin is bitter
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 white onion, minced
  • 2 serrano chiles, minced
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

MAHI MAHI

  • 1 1/2 pounds mahi mahi
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed, avocado or other high smoke point oil
  • Black pepper to taste

Instructions 

RICE

  • Cover the beans by about 3 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the smashed garlic and the half onion. Simmer until tender, then add salt to taste. Remove the garlic and onion and discard. Strain the liquid off the beans, but save both the beans and the liquid.
  • In a pot you can cook the rice in, sauté the onion and pepper in the olive oil until soft, then add the rice. Sauté this for a minute or two. Measure out enough of the bean liquid to cook the rice in -- look at the package, but it's normally 2:1 with long-grain rice, so 4 cups. If you don't have 4 cups of bean cooking liquid left, add water to get there. Pour this in and stir well.
  • Add the beans, cumin, oregano and bay leaves, stir well and cover. Cook the rice until done, then gently fold in the vinegar. Remove the bay leaf.

SALSA

  • Dice everything small and toss everything together except the cilantro. You'll mix that in right when you serve. Hold this at room temperature.

MAHI MAHI

  • Salt the fish well and set it on a cutting board or plate at room temperature while you make the rice. I do this once the beans are cooked.
  • Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Swirl the oil in the pan, and when you see a wisp of smoke rise, lay the fish down, one at a time. The moment the fish hits the pan, jiggle it a bit to slick the bottom of the fish. Do this with all the fish until the pan is full -- it is important that the pieces of fish do not touch once they get to searing.
  • Give it a minute, then tilt the pan to pool the oil and baste the top of the fish with a spoon until the meat turns opaque. Let the fish cook until it can be easily lifted off the pan, about 5 minutes or so. It's OK if there are a few sticky spots, but it should not be fused to the pan. If it is, keep cooking it. It will release.
  • When the fish is ready, set the pieces seared side up and grind pepper over them. Serve over the rice with the salsa.

Notes

Some keys to success are:

  • Salt the fish 30 minutes before you cook it.
  • Pat the fish dry using paper towels.
  • Heat the pan thoroughly before you add the oil. The thinner the fish the hotter the heat. A normal piece of mahi mahi will want medium-high. Anything thicker than 1 inch goes down to medium.
  • Add the oil and swirl to coat. When is just barely begins to smoke, place the fish skin side down, or in the case of pan seared mahi mahi, the side that used to have the skin.
  • The moment the fish hits the pan, give the pan a little jiggle so the fish slides on the oil before searing. This helps prevent it from being cemented to your pan.
  • Start basting the fish immediately, tilting the pan to spoon the oil over the fish. Baste until it turns opaque.
  • Don't move the fish until it wants to be moved. That is usually once you see a significant crust from where fish meets pan. If you have to scrape the fish off the pan, it's not ready. Be patient.
  • When you remove the fish, let it rest seared side up. Grind pepper over it the moment it hits the cutting board or plate.

Nutrition

Calories: 664kcal | Carbohydrates: 98g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 124mg | Sodium: 167mg | Potassium: 1424mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1187IU | Vitamin C: 50mg | Calcium: 115mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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2 Comments

  1. I would like to try this with Carp. I have been experimenting with the carp found locally in our lakes and have found it similar to mahi mahi in its graininess.