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8 & $20: Cilantro-Lime Mahi Mahi With a Portuguese White

A snappy Verdelho highlights the citrus flavors in this California-inspired dish
Photo by: Christine Dalton
Sun-kissed, coastal flavors deserve a wine with freshness and acidity, like a Portuguese Verdelho.

Christine Dalton
Posted: May 10, 2016

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

As the United States' two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles are natural rivals. East Coast vs. West Coast, subways vs. highways, the list goes on. As a New York resident, I decided to make my own comparison of the two metropolises on a recent visit to the City of Angels, using the barometer of success that matters most in my mind: the quality of the food.

After days of strenuous, albeit delicious, research, I came to a few conclusions. The pizza? Fuggedaboutit. L.A. pies don't come close to a New York slice. Ditto on the bagels and deli sandwiches: The Big Apple still holds the crown. But after a few run-ins with authentic So-Cal tacos, I couldn't deny the superiority of the handmade corn tortillas stuffed with slow-roasted meats and dripping with complex moles and salsas. The fish tacos sealed the deal, filled with catches evoking the ocean and bursting with freshness from perfectly ripe avocados and tangy slaws. You win this one, L.A.

Back in New York, I happily returned to my corner pizza joint and bodega bacon, egg and cheese, but couldn't shake the memory of those tacos. Instead of setting out on a citywide search for a satisfactory equivalent, I decided to use the memory as inspiration in the kitchen.

I had promised to make a birthday dinner for a friend and wanted to treat her to a meal a bit fancier than tacos, so I used the fish taco flavors as a base. Recalling a bright green salsa I'd had on one of my favorite tacos out west, I attempted to recapture its flavors in a marinade of lime and cilantro.

These fresh ingredients—along with chopped garlic, grapefruit zest and olive oil—dressed a beautiful cut of mahi mahi I'd chosen at the fishmonger. Mahi mahi has a hearty texture and is resilient on the grill. Five minutes on each side brought beautiful golden-brown accents to the marinated fish.

Grapefruit flavors complemented the filets perfectly. I employed the whole fruit, using its zest in the marinade, its juice as a dressing for slaw, and its segments mixed in with the cabbage.

You should be able to collect a considerable amount of juice by cutting the grapefruit over a bowl and squeezing the rinds after removing the fruit. This juice, mixed with olive oil and Dijon mustard as an emulsifier, makes a tangy, rich dressing for the cabbage. The addition of avocado, perhaps L.A.'s most ubiquitous ingredient, adds creaminess, balance and texture.

With such coastal flavors, I immediately ruled out red wines as potential pairings. I chose three whites: one from Italy, one from South Africa and one from Portugal. The first, a Soave from northern Italy, was easy-drinking and pleasant, but had an oily texture that didn't feel right with the snappy crunch of the slaw. Perhaps it would have been a better fit if I'd served the fish with rice or roasted vegetables.

The second wine, a Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, underscored my No. 1 rule of pairing: If you don't like the wine on its own, you probably won't like it with your food. The wine skewed heavily toward herbaceous and bell pepper flavors—a style of which I'm not particularly fond.

My Portuguese wine choice, a Verdelho from the Alentejo region, turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. The wine burst with acidity and citrusy, tropical flavors, elevating the grapefruit and lime in the slaw and marinade.

Cilantro-Lime Mahi Mahi With Avocado Grapefruit Slaw

Pair with a tropical white such as Herdade do Esporão Verdelho Alentejo 2013 (86 points, $13).

Total time: 40 minutes

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Approximate food costs: $22

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lime (zest and juice)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Approximately 1 pound mahi mahi
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 grapefruit (zest, sections and juice)
  • 1 avocado, sliced or cubed
  • 4 cups green or red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper

1. Zest grapefruit and set aside. Over a large bowl, section the grapefruit while collecting the excess juice. Set sections aside. Whisk the grapefruit juice with 3 tablespoons olive oil, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Add sliced cabbage and toss.

2. In a medium bowl, combine zest and juice of lime, 1 teaspoon grapefruit zest, 3 tablespoons olive oil, chopped cilantro, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide mahi mahi filets into 2 even portions and coat with marinade.

3. Brush grill with olive oil and heat to a high temperature. Cook fish flesh-side down for 5 minutes. Flip and cook for 5 more minutes or until opaque and remove from grill.

4. Gently combine avocado slices and grapefruit sections with the cabbage slaw and spread onto plate or platter. Top with a piece of the grilled mahi mahi and serve. Serves 2.

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