Tahitian Mahi Mahi with Vanilla Sauce

mahi mahi with vanilla sauce | jessicagavin.com

Have you ever wondered what types of fresh fish you can expect to eat when visiting the beautiful islands of French Polynesia? You can experience extremely fresh locally caught lagoon fish, swordfish, marlin and tuna to name a few. When Jason and I visited the small Tahitian island of Bora Bora for our babymoon, we grew very fond of mahi mahi fish which could be found on almost every restaurant menu on the island. I actually remember seeing the local fisherman selling huge whole fresh caught Mahi Mahi in the small downtown in Bora Bora, called the Vaitape.

fisherman in Vaitape, Bora Bora selling mahi mahi | jessicagavin.com

When we returned home from paradise, we were happy that we could find some fresh fillets available at our local fish market. Mahi Mahi is a little on the pricier side, but worth the investment for a taste of this delicious fish. One of our favorite Polynesian traditional dishes is pan seared Mahi Mahi with vanilla sauce and I’m really excited to share this recipe with you!

pouring vanilla sauce over mahi mahi fish | jessicagavin.comMahi Mahi can weigh between eight to twenty five pounds. It is thin-skinned with firm light pink flesh. It has a delicate flavor that is almost sweet which turns white when cooked. Common ways to cook mahi mahi are grilling, broiling or sauteed. We have definitely had our share of grilled blackened mahi mahi tacos, they are so delicious! The fish is very easy to cook, so all you need is a little bit of seasoning, choose your method of cooking and you are set!

fork eating fish tasting | jessicagavin.com

I decided to go with a simple saute so that the fish would have a nice seared surface and stay tender and moist, as the fish can become tough if over cooked. To really make the flavor of the fish dazzle, a luxurious Tahitian vanilla sauce was made with coconut milk, cream, a little bit of chicken stock, a dash of rum for fun and Tahitian vanilla beans. I tried my best to remember all of the flavors that went into the simple yet elegant sauce that we had in Bora Bora, so I’m happy that I had Jason to help me taste test! I decided to serve the mahi mahi with vanilla sauce with a side of fresh sauteed vegetables like summer squash, carrots and onion and a side of fragrant coconut rice. We can now experience the flavors of Bora Bora right at home and I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

For dessert I would highly recommend pairing this dish with my Bora Bora coconut custard pie recipe if you are feeling inspired to make your meal a complete island experience.

TIP: How can I achieve a nice golden sear on the Mahi Mahi fillet?
The trick to beautiful coloring on a fish fillet is to start with a nice hot pan. Pre-heat your pan over medium high heat for a few minutes until you can feel the heat rising from the pan. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan about 1/8 of an inch, then allow the oil to heat until almost smoking. Carefully add the fish to the pan, presentation side down, and gently press on the fillet with a spatula for a few seconds so the flesh can make direct contact with the hot pan. This also helps release some of the moisture from the surface of the fish so the meat can brown evenly. After a few minutes, when the bottom becomes golden brown, the flesh will begin to release on its own with a little help from the spatula, if not give the fish a minute or two longer to cook. Flip the fish and finish cooking, this recipe calls for about 3 to 4 minutes of cooking on each side. Mahi Mahi only requires a few minutes of cooking before it gets dried out, so keep an eye on the time and firmness of the fish as it cooks so you can remove it off the pan quickly when its ready.
Tahitian Mahi Mahi with Vanilla Sauce
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
A classic Tahitian Mahi Mahi with vanilla sauce dish! The Mahi Mahi is seared until golden brown and served with a luscious vanilla rum and coconut sauce.
Mahi Mahi-
  • 4- 8 ounce Mahi Mahi fillets
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
Vanilla Sauce-
  • ½ cup dark rum
  • 1 vanilla bean, sliced open lengthwise
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Salt, as needed
Vanilla Sauce-
  1. In a medium saucepan add rum and vanilla bean, heat on medium heat until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Add the chicken stock, cream and coconut milk and gently whisk to combine. Increase heat to medium high, and allow mixture to reduce to half, about 1 cup, whisking continuously every few minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and not be runny. Turn off the heat, then carefully remove the vanilla bean from the sauce, then scrape seeds out of vanilla pod and whisk into the sauce. Season sauce to taste. Rewarm the sauce before serving with the Mahi Mahi.
Seared Mahi Mahi-
  1. Season both sides of the Mahi Mahi fillets generously with salt and pepper. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until hot. Carefully add the Mahi Mahi to the pan, and sear the fillets until they are golden brown about 4 minutes. Flip the fish and cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until the flesh is opaque. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with warmed vanilla sauce.


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    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jocelyn- You are so lucky to live in French Polynesia! My husband and I LOVE it there so much, I’m glad that I can bring some of the flavors of the islands back home with us. I hope you enjoy the recipe! Maururu!

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