Whole Grilled Mahi-Mahi with Lemon and Herbs
I consider myself lucky to be an early riser. It grants me a calm head start to the day, and an opportunity to pause and reflect as the sun climbs up over the horizon.
Like watching birds, one of the easiest ways to keep a finger on the pulse of the changing seasons is to watch the gradual movement of the sun. Standing in the same window every morning, I see it in a slightly different position, literally inching across the sky toward due east ahead of the equinox later in the month.
It’s a subtle signal that summer and its generous edible offerings have a deadline, and each year this ticking clock lights a fire beneath me. I scramble to gather as much of the remaining fresh, seasonal flavors as I can, then light an actual fire to turn them into a few last gloriously summery meals.
One perfect example: grilling a whole stuffed fish. It might look intimidating, but in truth it’s a relatively easy meal that will floor you (and guests).
We snagged this beautiful three-pound mahi-mahi first thing at the fish market (another morning-person perk), and kept the ingredients and prep super simple to let the fresh seasonal flavors speak for themselves. First, a dressing of olive oil, lemon slices, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, plus fresh herbs from the garden: chives, oregano and thyme. Next, grilling directly over open coals. To finish, a bath of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and more fresh herbs at the table. Incredible!
What’s in it for me?
Mahi-mahi is thick, with an almost meaty texture when cooked, therefore sometimes referred to as “the steak of fish.” It is of medium-color, and has an excellent, mild to moderate flavor. Because they are fast-growing with a relatively short life cycle, mahi-mahi are generally lower in mercury and other harmful environmental contaminants. (While mahi-mahi is very well-suited to the grill, any similarly thick and meaty fish can be substituted — think halibut, marlin, grouper, etc. More ideas in the recipe’s HGN Notes below.)
Mahi-mahi is high in protein and low in fat. At only 109 calories and about 1 gram fat (most of which is heart- and brain-healthy unsaturated omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids), a 3.5-ounce cooked portion provides nearly 25 grams of high-quality complete protein. This serving also brings more than 2/3 of your daily need for the antioxidant selenium, and is an excellent source of vitamin B6 and niacin (vitamin B3).
Oregano and thyme are among the top fresh herbs highest in antioxidants. The former is being studied for its potential to slow or prevent the progression of cancer cells in breast cancer patients and is known for natural anti-bacterial properties, while the latter is a rich source of iron and vitamin C. Both oregano and thyme, along with chives, offer vitamin K. Like their relatives leeks, shallots, and garlic, fresh chives provide a mild, almost sweet onion-y flavor, and provide you with antioxidant vitamins A and C.
As for sides, we tossed grilled potato wedges in more lemon juice and herbs from the garden, and served them alongside a crisp green salad dressed with a garlicky whole grain mustard vinaigrette. To drink, a full-bodied white wine.
Owing to an infusion of fresh ingredients, plus a slight smokiness from the grill, this mahi-mahi is flavorful, healthy, and incredibly satisfying — not to mention totally impressive. Fire up the grill, and let’s raise a fork, and a glass, to the season with a gorgeous whole stuffed fish!
Tell me… Have you (would you) ever grill a whole fish — eyes and all?
- 1 whole mahi-mahi, head-on, about 2 1/2 to 3 lbs (see HGN Notes for alternatives)
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- 2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper, divided
- 1 large lemon, thinly sliced + 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
- Few sprigs each of fresh herbs left whole, plus about 2 Tbsp each chopped, to serve -- we used oregano, thyme and chives
- Ask your fishmonger to clean, scale, and gut your fish. (Most reputable fish markets and even larger groceries will happily do this for no charge!) About 30 minutes before grilling, remove fish from the refrigerator, remove it from the packaging, and let it come to room temperature.
- Place the fish onto a large rimmed tray or non-wood cutting board to prep. Pat dry all over with paper towels and inside the cavity. Drizzle the inside lightly with olive oil, season with half of the salt and pepper, then stuff in the lemon slices and herbs. Drizzle the outside of the fish with another thin stream of olive oil, using your hands to rub it all over on both sides. Season lightly with the remaining half of the salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Heat your grill to medium-high heat, about 450° F. When hot, clean and oil the grates very well to prevent the skin from sticking. Place the fish directly on top of the hot, oiled grates, and LEAVE IT ALONE to cook until the skin is charred and the fish releases easily. (This can take between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.) Use a pair of long-handled tongs and large fish spatula to carefully flip over the fish; if it resists, allow another 1 minute and then try again. Cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes on the other side until the flesh is white throughout and flakes easily. If this is not the case, lower the heat or move to a cooler side of the grill, and close the lid for 1 or 2 minutes before checking again. (You can judge by temperature as well, looking for 135° F on an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part.)
- Remove the cooked fish carefully to a serving platter or large cutting board, and let rest 5 minutes. Present the fish at the table as is, allowing diners to take what they will, or carve and transfer meat to a platter or individual plates. (See HGN Notes for carving instructions.) Scatter the remaining chopped herbs over top, and serve with reserved lemon wedges on the side.
If you wish to carve the fish, never fear -- it's totally doable, and once have the gist of it down, this kitchen "trick" will make you look like a rockstar! Bon Appetit Magazine has a very helpful tutorial here: http://buff.ly/2cmms4c.
Mahi-mahi are typically free of those tiny pin bones you often find in salmon, trout and some other fish, but it never hurts to caution diners to stray bones.
No grill or crummy weather? Take it inside and bake the stuffed whole fish on a parchment-lined tray in the oven. Check out this Food & Wine Magazine recipe: http://buff.ly/2cfzSgz.
+ Any fresh herb will do for stuffing, such as parsley, cilantro, basil, marjoram, tarragon, sage, dill, mint, bay leaves, rosemary, etc.
+ Swap the lemon for orange, or try lime with sesame oil instead of olive oil.
+ Add sliced fresh chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and/or tomatoes to the stuffing!
Recipe adapted from Mastering the Grill.
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