What Is Mahi-Mahi?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Mahi-mahi fish dish on a plate

Veronica Garbutt / Getty Images

Mahi-mahi is the Hawaiian name for a warm water fish called the dolphinfish or dorado. It's a lean, firm whitefish with a tough, inedible skin that's typically left on, making it quick and easy to cook without falling apart. Popularly grilled or baked, mahi-mahi isn't too fishy but still has great flavor. Its milder, semi-sweet taste makes it an excellent choice for a variety of seasonings and dishes.

What Is Mahi-Mahi?

Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) is a relatively small saltwater fish that rarely exceeds 30 pounds, though they can grow anywhere from three to six feet long. The fish prefers the warm waters of the South Pacific, Mediterranean, and the Caribbean, though it also swims the Atlantic Ocean. It has a short life cycle of four to five years, and it's typically not overfished either commercially or recreationally. These two factors lead many people to place mahi-mahi on the list of more sustainable fish options.

Mahi-mahi is a Hawaiian name meaning "strong-strong." It also goes by the misleading name dolphinfish (though it has nothing whatsoever to do with the mammalian dolphin family) and dorado due to its sparkly golden appearance. But, if you like to eat fish, you can simply call it delicious. The flesh is firm, with a semi-mild and somewhat sweet flavor.

While you can purchase them whole to fillet at home, pre-cut fresh or frozen steaks are more common. The price varies with the season (most mahi-mahi are caught from summer through autumn), but it is a reasonably priced fish that tends to cost less than halibut or swordfish.

How to Cook Mahi-Mahi

Mahi-mahi is a versatile fish that produces excellent results using just about any cooking method. Just remember that it is a lean fish, so take care not to overcook it, or it will dry out. Depending on the thickness, it will only need three to four minutes per side.

If you are planning to grill the fillets, leave the skin on to cook—the fillets will hold together better this way—then remove the skin before serving, as it is quite tough, even when cooked. Cook the fish skin-side down on a moderately hot grill and turn them over carefully. For skinless fillets, use a flat grilling basket.

Most filleted mahi-mahi will be free of bones, and any you do find are likely to be large and long. They can be cut out, but it is much easier (and less damaging to fillets) to remove them after cooking.

One great way to prepare mahi-mahi is to brush it with homemade chimichurri sauce and broil it, but it can also be grilled, pan-fried, skewered, or steamed. Cut into strips and battered, it even makes tasty tempura. Mahi-mahi can easily be substituted for any recipe that calls for tilapia or catfish.

What Does Mahi-Mahi Taste Like?

Mahi-mahi has mild, sweet flesh that looks pinkish but turns white as it cooks. It is rather lean, firm, and compact (not flaky), but it is also delicate, moist, and flavorful. The "fishy" flavor is often described as stronger than halibut but milder than swordfish.

Mahi-Mahi vs. Halibut

Mahi-mahi is best compared to halibut because of its firm, compact, translucent flesh, but many differences exist. A member of the flounder family, halibut is a flatfish that can easily exceed 500 pounds. Halibut swims in the Pacific and generally prefers cooler waters, and the much smaller mahi-mahi has a clear preference for warm water. While the flesh texture is similar, halibut is usually quite white, compared to mahi-mahi's pinkish hue. Finally, though both fishes have a mild flavor, mahi-mahi is more delicate than halibut, with a distinct tropical sweetness.

Mahi-Mahi Recipes

Mahi-mahi is best-known in Hawaiian recipes, but it's also featured in cuisines worldwide. Much of its popularity stems from the fact that it's such an extremely easy and versatile fish to cook. It works equally well in a soup or sandwich as it does when grilled or baked as a whole fillet. The flavor also lends itself well to a range of tastes, from spicy to sweet and herbal to citrus.

Where to Buy Mahi-Mahi

The best place to buy fresh mahi-mahi is at a seafood purveyor or supermarket fish department with good suppliers and high turnover. Frozen fillets are readily available at supermarkets.

Here are a few tips to help you pick the freshest fillets:

  • Smell: Mahi-mahi should never smell fishy. Look for moist, resilient fillets or steaks with a clean, almost neutral scent.
  • Color: Mahi-mahi is pink with red stripes or spots and occasional light brown or bluish tinges. Avoid fish with dull color or dark brown areas, especially along the edges, as this may indicate age and the beginnings of spoilage. Dark red bloodlines or spots are OK but should be trimmed before cooking for a milder flavor.
  • Skin: 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.
  • Sustainability: Troll-caught and rod-and-reel caught mahi-mahi, especially those from Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Coast, are considered the most sustainable choices. Longline-caught mahi-mahi is a less desirable choice because of bycatch issues and should be avoided.
Tips for purchasing mahi-mahi
The Spruce / Kaley McKean 

Storing Mahi-Mahi

Fresh mahi-mahi can be tightly wrapped in plastic and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator for two to three days. Mahi-mahi freezes well and will keep for several months if properly packaged and bagged.