How To Cook Mahi Mahi: The Best, Simplest Method

updated Aug 29, 2023

Easy pan-seared mahi mahi fish with a lemon butter sauce.

Serves4

Prep5 minutes

Cook20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Mahi mahi is a firm, lean white fish that hails from warm waters off of places like Hawaii or the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a great, less expensive alternative to halibut, and can be grilled, broiled, or even fried. But one of our favorite ways to prepare it is to simply pan-sear it, which lets the flavors and flaky texture shine. Searing it in a pan also lets you make a buttery, lemon-y sauce to drizzle all over the fish.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

All you need to complete this easy fish dinner is a green salad or vegetable, and maybe some bread or rice to sop up all that tasty sauce. Here’s the easiest way to cook mahi mahi.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Buying Mahi Mahi

Mahi mahi, also known as dolphinfish, is usually sold as skinless fillets and is generally considered a sustainable seafood from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list. If you can’t find it fresh, check the frozen seafood section, which may sell them as individually frozen fillets (Costco sells a 3-pound pack of frozen fillets).

If you can’t find mahi mahi, look for a meaty white fish like swordfish, halibut, or snapper as an alternative.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Tips for Cooking Mahi Mahi

As with cooking other types of fish on the stovetop, you’ll want to start with a nonstick or cast iron pan so that there’s less of a chance for the fish to stick. Here are some tips once you’re ready to get going.

  1. Use a hot pan and dry fish. To get that nice brown crust on the mahi mahi, make sure the pan is just starting to smoke and the fish has been patted dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture before you add it to the pan.
  2. Sear more on the first side. Borrowing from a technique we use with pan-seared salmon, let the first side cook longer to develop the crust, then flip the fish over and cook the second side for just a few minutes more.
  3. Use lemon slices and lemon juice. After the fish is cooked, add some lemon juice, garlic, and salt and scrape up those tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add some lemon slices both for flavor and a pretty presentation at the end. 
  4. Finish with butter and parsley. Finish the sauce with butter, but leave it on the heat just until the butter is melted — don’t keep cooking the sauce. Stir in parsley for some freshness and color, then pour that gorgeous sauce over the fish.
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Serving Mahi Mahi

The simple sauce is so flavorful that the mahi mahi doesn’t need much else, but no one would argue if you served the fish with something that can soak it all up: some crusty bread, steamed rice, or mashed potatoes are all great candidates. It’s up to you if you want to eat the lemon slices — they get soft in the pan and offer a nice contrast to the flaky fish and buttery sauce. A green vegetable, such as asparagus or green beans, also pairs delightfully.

Mahi Mahi Recipe

Easy pan-seared mahi mahi fish with a lemon butter sauce.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 4

    (4 to 6-ounce) mahi mahi fillets

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 clove

    garlic, minced

  • 4 tablespoons

    cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

  • 1 tablespoon

    coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Equipment

  • Large cast iron skillet or nonstick frying pan

  • Paper towels

  • Measuring spoons

  • Knife

  • Cutting board

  • Whisk

  • Flat spatula

  • Wooden spoon

Instructions

Show Images
  1. Slice and juice the lemon. Cut half the lemon into thin slices. Juice the remaining half, you should have about 1 1/2 tablespoons of juice; set both aside.

  2. Season the mahi mahi. Pat the mahi mahi dry with paper towels. Season all over with 1 teaspoon of the salt and a few grinds of pepper.

  3. Pan sear the mahi mahi. Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet or nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mahi mahi and sear undisturbed until well browned on the bottom and the sides are cooked just past halfway up the fillets, about 4 minutes. Flip the fillets and continue to sear until just cooked through and the flesh flakes easily, 2 to 4 minutes more depending on the thickness of the fillets. Transfer to a serving platter.

  4. Add the lemon juice and garlic over medium-low heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the lemon juice, garlic, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

  5. Add the lemon slices and butter. Add the lemon slices, then stir the butter in one piece at a time, waiting until each piece is almost melted before adding the next.

  6. Season the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the parsley. Taste the sauce and season with more salt and pepper and needed. Pour over the mahi mahi and serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days.

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