Mojo marinade (or mojo criollo) is a combination of citrus juice, garlic and oil. In Cuban cuisine it’s used to inject wonderful flavor to meat, usually pork and chicken. The holiday classic, Cuban roast pork starts with a lengthy soak in mojo marinade.
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Let me start by saying that just about every Cuban cook has their own recipe for mojo criollo. And yes, theirs is always the “best”. Having a mojo recipe is just as important as having a good sofrito recipe. Families take pride in their recipe, they get passed down from one generation to the next, with everyone putting their own spin on it.
The ingredients for a Cuban mojo marinade can vary widely and include herbs, spices, even onions and peppers. While some ingredients can be different, at its essence a Cuban mojo contains fresh garlic, oil (usually olive oil or lard), and citrus juice. The traditional citrus used to make mojo is sour orange.
What are sour oranges?
Sour orange, also called bitter orange and Seville orange, is a type of orange with a rough, bumpy skin that produces a sour juice. The color ranges from orange to a pale-yellow with green streaks. The inside can be vibrant to dull orange in color, and they have a lot of seeds.
Sour oranges are not eaten out of hand like sweet oranges. Instead, they are most commonly used to make marinades. Sour orange (or naranja agria in Spanish) is a prominent ingredient in the popular Cuban mojo marinade.
Finding sour oranges and substitutes
During the latter part of the year (near Christmas time) many Latin markets will stock sour oranges. You can find them through-out the year too, but it’s hit or miss.
If sour oranges are not available in your area you can make a rather good substitute by combining orange juice (fresh squeezed is best) and lime juice at a 2:1 ratio. Two parts orange juice to one part lime juice. So, for this mojo recipe it would be 1 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice and ½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice. Shake or stir well to combine.
The last alternative to consider is bottled sour orange juice. It’s not actually made with sour oranges; the ingredients include grapefruit juice and/or other citrus. Even if it’s not the real thing, bottled sour orange juice will still get you that slightly sweet and sour taste you’re looking for. Sour orange juice can be found in the international section of larger grocery stores and online.
This is my family’s mojo recipe. We like to keep it simple around here, so other than the sour oranges you probably have most (or all) of these items in your pantry.
- Garlic – We’ll use a whole head
- Salt – The salt is used to season the mojo, but also to breakdown the garlic. It’s best to use a coarse salt like kosher salt or sea salt.
- Sour Orange Juice – How many oranges to use will depend on how large and juicy they are. Figure on roughly 2½-3 pounds. We’ve used anywhere from 5 to 10 oranges in the past.
- Oil – We stick with the traditional extra virgin olive oil
- Herbs and spices – Dried oregano, cumin and a bay leaf all add flavor
You will also need:
- Mortar and pestle to breakdown the garlic
- Jar or container with a tight-fitting lid – to keep the mojo
- Meat mallet to smash the garlic (or use the side of a large knife)
- Mesh strainer to catch the sour orange seeds
Juice the sour oranges. When you cut them in half, you’ll notice that they have a lot of seeds.
Strain the juice through a mesh strainer to catch all the seeds.
Peel and smash the garlic by separating the cloves and cutting off the tough end. Place the cloves on a cutting board and give each one a good whack with a meat mallet or the side of a large knife. Once you smash the garlic you can pick the peel right off.
Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon salt to a mortar and pestle. Work the garlic until you break it down into small, flat pieces.
Add the smashed garlic, sour orange juice, olive oil, oregano, cumin, 1½ teaspoon salt, and the bay leaf to a bowl or jar. Stir or shake to combine well. Let the marinade sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, a few hours to overnight is better. Shake or stir well before using.
You may also like:
- 1½ cups Sour Orange Juice how many oranges to use will depend on how large and juicy they are (about 2½-3 pounds)
- 1 Garlic Head peeled and smashed (about 10-12 large cloves)
- 2½ teaspoons Coarse Salt divided (1 teaspoon to breakdown the garlic and 1½ teaspoon for the marinade) – we use kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
- ¼ teaspoon Cumin
- 1 Bay Leaf
- You will also need: Mortar and pestle, Jar or container with a tight-fitting lid, Meat mallet to smash the garlic (or use the side of a large knife), Mesh strainer
- Juice the sour oranges, strain to remove the seeds.
- Peel and smash the garlic.
- Add the smashed garlic and 1 teaspoon salt to a mortar and pestle. Work the garlic until you break it down into small, flat pieces.
- Add the smashed garlic, sour orange juice, olive oil, oregano, cumin, 1½ teaspoon salt, and the bay leaf to a bowl or jar. Stir or shake to combine well.
- Let the marinade sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, a couple of hours to overnight is better. Shake or stir well before using.