What Is Mahi-Mahi?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Mahi-mahi fish dish on a plate

Veronica Garbutt / Getty Images

Are you looking for a lean, healthy fish that is not too fishy? If so, mahi-mahi is the one for you.

What Is Mahi-Mahi?

Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) is a versatile fish that produces excellent results using just about any cooking method. It is relatively small, rarely exceeding 30 pounds. It prefers the warm waters of the South Pacific, Mediterranean, and Caribbean (though it also swims the Atlantic Ocean), and has a short life cycle of four to five years.

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.

How to Cook Mahi-Mahi

You can cook mahi-mahi just about any way you like, but remember 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 about 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.

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 quite delicate, moist, and flavorful.

Mahi-Mahi vs. Halibut

Mahi-mahi can best be compared to halibut because of its firm, compact, translucent flesh, but there are many differences. Halibut, a member of the flounder family, is a flatfish, whereas mahi-mahi is not. While mahi-mahi is a fairly small fish that rarely weighs more than 25 pounds, halibut can easily exceed 500 pounds. Though halibut swims in the Pacific, it generally prefers cooler waters. 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 an extremely easy and versatile fish to cook with.

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.

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 that have 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 are a less desirable choice because of bycatch issues and should be avoided.
  • Bones: 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.
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.