Grilled Dolphin on Blackened Corn Relish

Serve fillets on top of the corn relish and try to get some of each on every forkful.

Put together two things that taste good separately, and they’ll probably taste good together.

If you didn’t realize it or didn’t get the memo, it’s summer again in the South. After the mild winter, the spring was hot; the 90-degree days began before Memorial Day weekend. Folks living in states along the Gulf Coast don’t need a calendar to know when summer has arrived. It’s here for 2019, so let’s try to enjoy it.

With the right clothing and a 5-gallon bucket of sunscreen, July is a good time for fishing off the Mississippi coast. Unless there is a tropical system in the mix, most days begin pretty calm, then develop a sea breeze as the temperatures rise. The breeze picks up in mid-morning, just when the heat is about to become overbearing, and it is at its strongest blowing toward land when fishing is over and anglers are heading in.

Dolphin are a favorite fish of all anglers who head offshore. Many call them Mahimahi to distinguish them from Flipper, but most enjoy them as the guest of honor at dinner.

Sometimes, the experience of catching fish adds to the flavor, and this is one of those times. All fresh fish are good, but eating ones you caught yourself earlier that day makes it really special. These fish are mild-flavored, and almost everyone likes them. Adding the grill and a little smoke from blackening the corn relish makes it even better. We may not be the tropics, but this is definitely tropical.

The proper care of fish begins as soon as they hit the deck, especially when it’s hot and sunny. Fish should be covered in ice, not just tossed in the fish box on ice, as soon as possible. If they come in green, flip them into the fish box until they quiet down, then remove the hooks and cover them with ice. When days are super hot and the sun is bearing down, even a few minutes on the deck can negatively affect the quality of fish. Ice is your friend; cover your fish in it immediately.

TIP: A few drops of olive oil in a frying pan will keep butter from scorching.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds dolphin fillets
  • 1 16-ounce jar sweet and spicy corn relish
  • Spicy Italian salad dressing
  • Blackened seasoning
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 stick butter
  • Salt and coarse ground black pepper
  • Non-stick cooking spray

PREPARATION:

Marinating dolphin fillets in spicy Italian dressing will help keep them moist while grilling.

Trim away any larger, red areas of the fillet and cut it into approximate 8-ounce pieces. Place fillets in Ziplock bag, barely cover with spicy Italian dressing, squeeze out all the air and seal. Marinate at least 30 minutes in refrigerator.

Strain the corn relish and shake to remove all liquid possible. Put corn relish in a bowl and sprinkle with blackened seasoning (to taste), then stir to mix.

Place fillets on grill tray and season to taste with salt and coarse ground pepper. Grill fillets over medium heat for a few minutes on each side and move them to a warming tray. Be careful not to overcook the fillets.

Turn grill to high. Put olive oil and butter in a cast-iron frying pan and put the pan on the grill. When butter has melted, pour corn relish into pan and sprinkle on a little more blackened seasoning (to taste). Stir regularly while cooking. This will caramelize quickly, and you don’t need to scorch it as in other blackenings.

Serve by spreading corn relish on a plate and placing the dolphin fillet on top. I serve this with a green salad or lettuce wedge. If you would like dessert, key lime pie is an excellent choice.

This is a unique way to eat dolphin. As much as we like dolphin, when you find them, you usually catch a lot, and eating them grilled, baked or blackened can get rather mundane. This recipe began while sitting with a group of fishermen and talking about different ways to prepare seafood, especially dolphin, when you come in with a big catch and have enough for a bunch of meals.

This recipe doesn’t blacken the fish, but the corn relish. Actually, blackened might be a little overstatement, as the corn relish is really more caramelized with the seasoning, rather than being blackened. I believe you’ll appreciate the juxtaposition.

Take care to remove all the liquid you can from the corn relish without squeezing it. It will stay moist with the olive oil and butter in the pan. The little bit of olive oil helps keep the butter from scorching.

This is another example of my food philosophy: if two things taste good separately, there’s a good chance they will taste good together. Corn relish basically amounts to pickled corn, but with both sweet and sour tastes. It usually has onions and some peppers, and there are many different recipes. You can find options to make it yourself by Googling “corn relish,” but in staying with the easy part of this recipe column, I used some Jardines Corn Relish from the shelf at a local grocery store, and it can also be found at most farmers’ markets.

The flavor of sweet and sour corn relish will turn a meal of dolphin into something special.

I use Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic blackened seasoning, rather than making the salt-free blackened seasoning I usually make from scratch. There are many different combinations for making your own salt-free or regular blackened seasonings that can be found by Googling, and I’m still experimenting with them.

The zesty Italian dressing doesn’t impart much flavor to the fillets, but the combination of vinegar and oil penetrates and keeps them moist while grilling. I use a lot of coarse ground black pepper and not much salt, but this can be tailored for individual tastes.

Be sure not to overcook the dolphin fillets. As soon as a fork slides in easily and they flake, take them off the heat and move them to an upper warming rack or to a heated plate. It will only take a couple of minutes to cook the corn relish once the butter has melted. The pan will still be warming when you put it in. This is a caramelization, not a usual blackening, so as soon as you see any black in the relish, remove it from the heat and serve it.

Serve this with the corn relish on the plate and the dolphin fillet on top of it. They are good eaten separately, but try to get some corn relish with each bite of the fillet. The combination of flavors that aren’t typically mixed is what makes this special.

Even though it’s really easy, I don’t use this recipe often and I don’t expect anyone will. However, just about every time I use it, one of us makes a comment that we should fix dolphin this way more often and maybe even try it with other fish.

This story first appeared on CarolinaSportsman.com