September 27, 2011 Facebook TwitterMore...

Island Cooking: Dolphin Days


These are the dolphin days - the steamy summery and early fall months when this tropical delicacy is pretty easily found hiding and feeding beneath the Sargassum beds in the Gulf Stream.  That is, if you can find the beds.  

Dolphin now appears regularly on local dining tables, restaurant menus, and in seafood markets.

Many Americans have taken to calling it by its Hawaiian name, mahi-mahi, to avoid confusion, and it is also known in places as dorado, but here on the islands you can still see it referred to as dolphin, especially among the fishermen.

It is a gorgeous fish with colors that are truly tropical in nature - brilliant turquoise, yellow, and green.  It lives in the vivid blue water offshore and is rarely spotted jumping out of the water unless it has been hooked.  

When it comes toward the surface, it is a spectacular sight.  You will miss the display if you don’t have an opportunity to fish for it, since it loses its color once out of water and most people only see it after it has been filleted.

The dolphin that we refer to is a food fish, Coryphaena hippurus, and is sometimes called Dolphinfish.  It is pelagic and lives in the tropical and sub-tropical ocean areas where it is a voracious predator and prolific spawner.  It reaches maturity quickly and has a short life span.  Its population is considered “healthy” by National Marine Fisheries.

It does not frolic and leap in the water near boats and has never been credited with saving anyone from sharks or drowning.  

What is also commonly called a dolphin by many people is, in fact, not even a fish but a sea mammal, a bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, and is most certainly not edible - at least not for humans.

So, relax.  We are not trying to catch, sell or eat “Flipper”!

Dolphin is, to my mind, the most versatile fish you can bring into the kitchen.  Its meat is white and sweet and firm enough to grill while it also takes to just about any other method of cooking you would want to employ.  And it is absolutely delicious any way it is prepared.  It is, by far, my favorite fish.

There is one dolphin delight I could eat every day and that is Capt. Ernie’s beer-battered dolphin.  The bite is deliciously salty and crunchy on the outside and inside the batter, the fish is sweet and moist and the combination of flavors is heavenly.

Whether we are joined by guests or just feeding ourselves, we always gather around our small island in the kitchen to snatch the dolphin as it comes out of the electric fryer.  We have to discipline ourselves to leave enough to put on the table!

I concocted what I called my “secret sauce” many years ago to accompany the dolphin bites.  It is ridiculously easy, embarrassingly so, hence the name.  It is now being commercially produced, but I still like to make my own and add French tarragon.


1 can or bottle of beer, warm and flat
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
About 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 - 2 pounds dolphin, skin removed cut into thumb-size chunks
Peanut oil for frying

In large bowl, mix and beat the beer, egg and salt together.  Add enough flour to make the mixture the consistency of pancake batter.

Heat the oil in an electric fryer (for better temperature control) to 375 degrees.

Add the dolphin chunks, a few at a time, to the batter, turning to coat evenly.

Drop the battered fish into the hot oil, a few at a time, and cook until browned and crunchy.  Do not cook too many at a time since that will lower the temperature of the oil and result in soggy fish.

Drain the cooked fish on paper towels and serve immediately.


Combine mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s) and Dijon mustard in a proportion of 2 mayo to 1 mustard.  Adjust according to your taste.  Stir in enough dried French tarragon to mix generously throughout the sauce.  Start with a teaspoon and again, taste and adjust.  The condiments provide the seasoning, so don’t add salt.

The flavors that come from the Mediterranean basin pair beautifully with seafood.  The staples include lemons, olive oil, fresh herbs and garlic.  How can you go wrong?

When you bake dolphin fillets in lemon juice and add these other ingredients, it takes this amazingly versatile fish to another level.   Toss in some fingerling potatoes and sliced onions and grill some zucchini, and you have a very satisfying dinner.


4 fillets of fresh dolphin
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 small onion, thinly sliced
8 fingerling potatoes, sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 sprigs Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 2 large lemons, freshly squeezed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season the fillets with salt and pepper.

Pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil into a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish and potatoes without crowding them.

Place the sliced onions into the baking dish and put the potato slices atop the onions. Season with salt and pepper and half of the herbs and garlic  and then place the fillets on top.

Sprinkle the rest of the herbs, garlic, and lemon juice over and around the fish.

Cover and place in the heated oven and bake about 10 minutes.  Remove the cover and continue to bake until the fish becomes opaque and flaky, about 10-15 minutes more.

Serve with a seasonal green vegetable, such as zucchini.


4 small zucchinis
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh marjoram, lightly chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

Slice the small zucchinis in half and score the flesh.  Place on oiled baking sheet.
Sprinkle the zucchini with olive oil, marjoram, and salt and pepper.

Place under broiler for just a few minutes, until the zucchini begins to brown.

Remove from broiler and add chopped parsley, a little more marjoram, and a spritz of lemon juice.

I also love dolphin en papillote, steamed in parchment paper.  It retains its clean and delicate flavor best when prepared this way.

There is, in Istanbul, a delightful restaurant located above the Egyptian, or Spice, Market.

You reach Pandeli’s by a skinny, long, interior staircase in which you find yourself happily assaulted by the bouquets of the myriad spices from below mingling with the enticing aromas from the kitchen above.

As you enter the dining room, you are visually struck by the exquisite turquiose, blue, and white glazed tiles that cover the interior walls.  They are irresistibly cool to the touch, and it became my tradition to do so as a way of acknowledging my pleasure to be back.

Pandeli’s is renowned for the fish en papillote, and I have never eaten anything there but this.  It is that good.

The good news is it can be easily reproduced at home.  It is that simple.

This recipe allows for numerous variations of fish, vegetable, and herb combinations, so use what is fresh.  The broth that brews in the parchment is wonderful to spoon over rice.  You can also use aluminum foil to the same effect as parchment.  It just isn’t as pretty.  

The aroma that arises when you open the “package” is almost as rewarding as the lovely flavors.


Four 6-8 ounce dolphin fillets, of similar depth and width
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pats
8 bay leaves
4 teaspoons fresh thyme
8 small sprigs Italian flat parsley
8 small scallions, trimmed
12 thin slices of red pepper (bell pepper, not chili pepper)
12 thin slices of yellow pepper
12 thin slices zucchini
4 tablespoons dry white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

Cut parchment paper into large squares and coat inside with butter.

Sprinkle both sides of the dolphin fillets with salt and place one in the center of each parchment square.  Sprinkle each with lemon juice; top with 2 pats of butter and 2 bay leaves.

Arrange the vegetables and herbs atop the fish and sprinkle each with one tablespoon white wine.

Fold the paper around the fish as if making a package.  Put a toothpick through the folds of paper on top, being careful to ensure the package is completely closed.  You don’t want steam or liquid to escape.

Some of you may be more comfortable using aluminum foil as it does crimp together well.

Place the packets on a baking sheet and put into the oven to cook for 20 minutes.

Remove; place onto dinner plates and carefully open the package.  Diners enjoy the novelty of eating directly from the packet so spoon some prepared rice onto the delicious broth.

Welcome your guests or treat yourself outside on the porch with a festive pitcher of white sangria flavored with fruit.  The fruits make it a healthy appetizer!

Lee Robinson’s carries a delectable prepared white sangria by SaViDa that has peach juice as one of its ingredients.  I use that in the summer when they also have fresh peaches in their market across the street.  

It takes no time, but its presentation belies that fact.  Just pour the contents of the bottle into a pitcher and add thin slices of fresh peaches and strawberries, limes, and lemons.  Add some fresh mint and a handful of blueberries and you have a very pretty, very luscious drink!

(Lynne Foster lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront.  Both love to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment with recipes for locally caught seafood.)

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.