Everything changes during May. Spring fishing along our coasts may get started a little earlier some years, but it still tends to build during May. The weather gets more consistent, which certainly helps the fishing. The days are warm and often border on hot, and fishing may also escalate to hot, especially in the Gulf Stream.
Some windy days may show up, along with an occasional cool night, but with annoying insects yet to arrive, May is a good time to spend some late-afternoon and early evening hours outside. It is an excellent time to enjoy an open fire, either a camp fire or a fire in your backyard fireplace or fire pit. It’s also a great time to prepare a meal outdoors. There’s something relaxing and therapeutic about cooking and eating outdoors.
The first schools of dolphin arrive each spring off South Carolina in late April and North Carolina by mid-May. This translates to a lot of Mahimahi fillets.
Mahi, aka dolphin, are a favorite of fishermen. The first ones arrive in pairs or small groups, and they soon build into packs, ravaging any baitfish they can find. They always seem to be hungry, so catching a mess for dinner is usually pretty easy. The limit is liberal, too, with fishermen allowed to keep 10 per day.
Seafood is a welcome addition to most tables, and when you catch it yourself, you know just how fresh it is and how well cared-for it has been. Some shrimp may around by this month, and fresh is best if available. However, many folks will have shrimp in their freezer from last fall, and if it was frozen in water or vacuum sealed, it should taste amazingly fresh. If not, this is a good reason to visit your favorite local fish market and sample its wares.
Many farmers’ markets should be open by May, and hopefully you can find vegetables there. This recipe tastes good any way you prepare it, but will be even better with the freshest ingredients possible. Fresh fish, fresh shrimp, fresh veggies, fresh air,and a crackling fire is a heck of a combination for an excellent May dinner.
Mahi hobo meal
My introduction to using fish as the base for hobo-type meals came several decades ago when Spanish mackerel hobos were served for the awards banquet at a fishing tournament in Hatteras, N.C. As is often the case off Hatteras, the wind and seas hadn’t been kind, and they had been joined by some nasty thunderstorms to remind everyone why this area is often referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
We were all hungry, too, and when we entered the local community center, an enticing aroma had wafted in from the grills out back. After the meal had been blessed, everyone was given a plate with a folded aluminum foil packet.
The foil was hot, and a few oohs, aahs and other minor exclamations were heard as they were opened. The packets were filled with Spanish mackerel fillets that were covered with sweet onions, dripping with butter, and had been seasoned and cooked to perfection. The room became eerily quiet as hungry fishermen stopped talking and devoured the tasty treats.
I’ve been to tournaments that catered huge meals, but I’ll always remember how tasty that one was and how much everyone enjoyed it. Someone said it was because we were all hungry, but that was only part of it. It’s as tasty today as it was then.
I played with the idea a little for this recipe. It’s still excellent with Spanish fillets, sliced onions, salt, pepper and butter, but I’ve made a banquet version that features Mahi fillets and shrimp, and that’s what I’m presenting. This could actually be considered a two-fer, as it can be made as simple as my first sample or with the additions I have noted. You get to decide.
Potatoes are an option, and if you use them, it is important to slice the potatoes very thin so they will cook at the same pace as the fish. If you prefer your potatoes thicker, cook them separately. I like potatoes with seafood, but I also like my fish cooked lightly, so I’ve been adding potatoes as a side dish.
This recipe uses a fair bit of garlic. I like it, but if you don’t or don’t need to ward off vampires, fix it with less. Regular salt will work fine, but I use sea or pink salt because I can get the flavor using less. I don’t add salt often, but this needs just a little.
You should also understand that I still experiment with this occasionally so if you really like or dislike something, feel free to tweak the recipe. If you like fish, you’ll like this, and a cool May evening is just the right time to try it.
4 mahi fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each
1/2 pound medium shrimp
1 large vidalia onion
1/2 cup mushrooms
2 tsp minced garlic
Butter (the real stuff)
Non-stick cooking spray
Sea or pink salt and coarse ground pepper
Optional: 4 to 6 new potatoes. These must be sliced very thin to cook properly.
Wash and trim the fillets and pat them dry. Peel the shrimp. Slice the onions very thin (If using potatoes, slice them very thin).Slice the mushrooms medium thin.
Build a fire or light a charcoal grill. Spray two pieces of aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray. Lay two similar-sized fillets on the aluminum foil. Salt and pepper the fillets to taste. Layer onions and mushrooms (and potatoes) on one fillet — the larger one if there is a noticeable size difference. Place a few shrimp on the vegetables. Sprinkle a teaspoon of minced garlic on top, then lightly sprinkle a little more pepper on top, and put a tablespoon of butter on top of all of it. Place the other fillet over vegetables and shrimp, wrap the foil around the fillets and fold to seal tightly.
Cook in the coals of a camp fire or charcoal grill for 20 to 40 minutes until flaky. Thinner fillets will cook more quickly; it takes more time for thicker fillets. There is also some variation in the heat of the coals in the fire, so this step takes a little monitoring. Remove the packets from the coals and let stand for several minutes. Open the foil packets and serve immediately. Be careful as the foil will be hot and there will be a rush of steam when the foil is first opened.
I like to season and butter some asparagus and wrap it in foil to cook in the coals. I sometimes add thinly sliced potatoes to the hobos as noted as an option above. However, I usually slice and spray several potatoes with buttery flavor, non-stick spray and season them , then cook them separately wrapped in a foil package like the hobo meals and asparagus.