The sun is scorching and the dolphins are running. Not our lovable marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises but the delicious mahi mahi - also known as dorado in the Spanish speaking countries.
I wish I had a great story of catching a record breaking bull dolphin (male of the species) but I don’t! I think the few times that I went out for dolphin we cruised around looking for weed lines out past the reef. We would troll for hours searching for random debris floating in the water. I think a lot of the time I was looking more for a square grouper than anything else. We usually ended up just catching a buzz rather than that dolphin I always hear people boasting and bragging about. Truthfully it’s pretty embarrassing being born and raised here and not ever caught a dolphin. Some friends like to tell me “your mamma never let you out the backcountry!” They even went as far as to not invite me to go with them because they would not catch any dolphin when I was in the boat.
One thing that is for sure is that I have cooked more dolphin than there are chickens running around Key West. It’s hard to walk into almost any restaurant in the Florida Keys or maybe even all Florida without seeing dolphin on the menu - served from blackened to fried or grilled on sandwiches. Topped with some ridiculous fruit salsa or mango burr blanc. I think I get a little irate when I see those dishes because I only had to prepare it for ten of my culinary years. One chef even went as far as to say it was “Key West Cuisine”. Well I guess that chef was a tremendous revolutionary in the culinary field! Hey, the bottom line is, that’s what sells. Maybe that’s why I’m here, to make sure I pass on the knowledge of true Key West cooking and the heritage of the Conch Republic cuisine.
Often as a child I remember my father firing up the grill on the weekend. Some nicely cleaned dolphin simply seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil along with whole green peppers and onion slices seasoned the same way. As the Heineken was flowing he would often douse the grill creating a beer steam of fresh seafood, onion, peppers, and charcoal. It would fill the air! I can still smell it to this day - in my opinion, the best way to eat dolphin by far.
Fire Roasted Dolphin
Season fish and veggies with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Once the grill is hot (key to cooking to perfection), place your vegetables first because they take the longest to cook. Turn veggies as needed to prevent overcooking then place your fish on the grill. Leave on for roughly three minutes and flip once. Cook for two more minutes and douse fish and veggies with wine or beer, cook one more minute then pull off the grill. Be careful not to overcook. The dolphin becomes very dry when overcooked. Finish by rubbing butter chunks on each filet.
TIP FROM THE CHEF:
When cleaning dolphin filets be sure to cut the skin off rather than peeling it off. When you peel the skin off a tough sinew is left behind and is chewy when cooked. Also make sure to cut out all dark pieces of the blood line for a cleaner tasting filet. Hope you all enjoy.
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