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The Nautical Burger

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Family dropped in for a quick fishing trip earlier this week and hit upon some beautiful mahi-mahi about 7 miles from the island. First, many thanks to Capt. Mike from Compass Rose charters for pivoting with weather conditions and pulling a great day together. They snagged Atlantic sailfish, tuna, and mahi-mahi.


The question that defines all great culinary minds was raised...what's the best way to grill up these gorgeous filets.


Took a sip of dark rum and gave the "Cliff notes" answer (that's Cliff from Cheers, not the little cheaters we used in high school). Here's what you need to know.


First, a little background...


Mahi-mahi is the perfect "in paradise" fish. Derived from South Pacific islanders, it means "strong-strong". (also known as dorado and dolphinfish). It's slightly sweet, firm, and easy to work with on a grill.



These guys are "the rabbits of the ocean", and are considered the fastest-growing wild fish. They grow up to 2.3 inches/week and 40 lbs/yr. At five months, they are mature and about 5-7 lbs. The world record is 87 lbs, caught off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The USA record is 77 lb, 2 oz caught up the keys in Islamorada.


They are also strong and fast, hitting top speeds of 60 mph. Mostly found in tropical and sub-tropical waters, they are a blast to catch...strong and aggressive fighters, they will hit the surface, tail dance then dive deep. Give them 1 second of line slack and they'll toss the hook.

The "Nautical" Burger

If you are looking for that truly outstanding alternative to the burger, grilled mahi-mahi is an excellent choice.


The elegance of this fish is in its simplicity. Here are some steps to follow for a great culinary experience...


  • Make sure your catch is fresh or well-thawed. If frozen, soak in cold water (never warm or hot water) until completely thawed. Seriously, do not toss it on the grill if it still has frozen spots.
  • Preheat your grill to 350. That's your ideal temperature for an even, thorough cook.
  • Important tip. Mahi-mahi is a lean fish and can "dry out" if you overcook. Brush each of your fillets, both sides, with melted butter or your favorite olive oil. This will pop a quick "infusion", add some juiciness as well as help prevent moisture loss.
  • Some additional suggestions for making it your own: Start with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp of pepper. You are good right there, or add in 1/2 tsp of garlic powder of 1/2 tsp of paprika, or 1/2 tsp of Italian seasoning. Or, 1/2 tsp of your favorite seasoning. There are multiple options, and these are just a few, but remember, keep the seasonings and marinades simple. The mild, sweet taste of the fish can be "overrun" with a heavy hand.
  • Season up the fillets with your marinade. 
  • Under that medium-high heat, we're looking for about 5 minutes per side, assuming a 1-inch thick fillet. If less, you may not need to flip. 


Mahi-mahi is done when the color is more opaque and the fish flakes easily with a fork. Mahi-mahi only needs to cook to an internal temperature of 137°F. That's less than a medium-rare temperature for steaks.


Drizzle a little fresh lemon juice just before serving.


The real secret here is don't get distracted by grabbing a beer, or chatting/texting while the fish is on the grill. (Sipping a cold one while monitoring the grill is fine and recommended). Good luck!

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