Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
Dolphin on! Before you totally freak out thinking I am talking about hooking our lovable Flipper, this dolphin is a fish, not a mammal. Since I come from the Old School, it is still hard for me to use the rather recent name mahi-mahi. I can still remember standing at the fish-cleaning table at Harbour Town filleting our catch and without fail tourists would ask “What kind of fish is that?” When I would answer “Dolphin,” the tourist would look at me with total disdain, maybe even a tear or two, and chastise me for killing poor old Flipper. What always amazed me was they were looking right at the mahi, which in no way resembles a dolphin, and I would have to calm them and explain this was the fish they love to order in a restaurant.
Don’t take advantage
One of the fastest growing fish in the ocean, the regulations on dolphin are, in my opinion, way too liberal. Anglers are allowed 10 fish per person and no more than 60 per boat. As for size requirements, they must be over 36” fork length. I encourage folks who fish with me to keep enough for a few meals and release the rest. Sixty per boat is crazy.
How to catch them
Hitting a school of dolphin is about as fun as it gets. Female dolphin, or cows, have a rounded snout while males, or bull dolphin, have a flat face like they ran into a brick wall. Ravenous, dolphin will eat about anything you put in front of them. Usually caught trolling ballyhoo with bright color lures, a huge bull dolphin can whip your butt. Reaching 70 or more pounds, they often put their broadside to you, making it feel like you are reeling in a sheet of plywood. Vibrant blues, greens, yellows, reds and purples, they are incredibly beautiful in the water. The Gulf Stream is their usual haunt with weed lines or flotsam like old boards, trash cans, etc. almost always guarantee a bite. Once hooked, leave that fish in the water and nine out of 10 times, others will magically appear. When that happens, throw out a handful of chum, pull out a spinning rod, and using small hooks with pieces of squid or cut fish drifting back into the chum can start a feeding frenzy. It’s times like this when catching 60 is more than conceivable.
Dolphin, any way you choose!
Fried, baked, broiled or grilled, you can’t go wrong cooking dolphin. I grew up dining on “dolphin fingers.” Cut fillets into thin strips, batter `em up and fry them with either tartar sauce or remoulade sauce for dipping. Grilled with salt and pepper and basted with butter and served on a bed of rice will bring smiles all around. Nowadays, my first choice for preparing dolphin is either broiling or frying chunks and making fish tacos with diced tomatoes, cilantro and a dollop of sour cream. As always, my go-to spice for any of these ways is Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic. Put away that Old Bay and grab some of this. It makes delicious superb!
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen Recipe – Ginger glazed dolphin with ginger jasmine rice
Ingredients (Serves 4)
4 (6-ounce) dolphin fillets
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley, chopped (for garnish)
Directions  In a shallow glass dish, stir together the honey, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, ginger, garlic and olive oil. Season fish fillets with salt and pepper, then place them in the dish, skin side down. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.  Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove fish from the dish, and reserve marinade. Fry fish for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, turning only once, until fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove fillets and keep them in a warm place.  Divide ginger jasmine rice (recipe below) equally on four plates. Halve each dolphin fillet and elegantly arrange each half on the bed of rice.  Pour reserved marinade into the skillet, and heat over medium heat until the mixture reduces to a glaze consistently. Spoon glaze over dolphin and garnish with chopped parsley. Enjoy!
Ingredients (ginger jasmine rice)
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice, uncooked
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 thumb of ginger root, peeled
1/4 cup sesame seeds
Directions  Fill the bottom of a rice steamer with water, then place two cups water, oil, rice and ginger in the top of the steamer. Let the rice steam for 20 minutes, or until tender.  Remove the ginger and fluff the rice with a fork.
Michel Redde Sancerre Les Tuilieres This Sauvignon Blanc offers exotic notes of lychee, pineapple and passion fruit, with underlying tones of pears and peaches. It pairs well with a wide variety of fish dishes, especially those with spicy and exotic sauces. Pick up a bottle for $52 at the Red Fish wine shop.