Flavorful Cuban Mojo Marinade Recipe

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This authentic Cuban mojo marinade is a powerhouse of citrusy, garlicky flavor with fresh herbs and citrus juice. Let this marinade do all the heavy lifting for your pork, steak, chicken and fish or use the marinade as a mojo sauce!

If you love Caribbean flavors, try out my homemade sofrito, chimichurri sauce, and authentic Cuban black beans recipe!

a jar of cuban mojo sauce sits on a table with a mortar and pestle, a bowl of garlic, and an orange

A Traditional Cuban Mojo Criollo!

Every Cuban, or anyone familiar with Cuban cooking, will know exactly what you're talking about the minute you bring up mojo.

It's the flavor you'll recognize immediately if you've ever had a dish from Pollo Tropical -- a fast food chain in Florida, or been to any Cuban restaurants. And I mean a real one, the kind with the abuelas in the back of the house.

'Cause if the recipe didn't come from an abuela, I don't want it! 

I grew up with many memories of Abuela pounding garlic and spices into paste with her wooden mortar and pestle, and mojo seasoning so many of her recipes.

Her homemade mojo recipe is now a gift I share with y'all!

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Why you'll love this Mojo Marinade Recipe

  • Simple Fresh Ingredients - fresh garlic, fresh orange juice, fresh oregano, that's the key!
  • That Flavor is Powerful, Y'all - we're only using a handful of simple ingredients, this citrus mojo sauce is a flavorful marinade that packs a punch and tenderizes any protein.
  • Great as a Dipping Sauce - use Cuban mojo marinade as a sauce to dip shrimp, veggies, or steak bites into!

What is Cuban Mojo?

Mojo, pronounced moh-ho, means 'sauce', and is a blend of vinegar, oil, salt, and garlic in the Canary Islands, though there are many variations of mojo sauce in the region and in different parts of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

It's a signature marinade of Cuba, a garlicky marinade that infuses any meat or vegetable with serious citrusy flavor.

a jar of mojo criollo in front of a wooden mortar and pestle

Mojo came to Cuba from the immigration of the Spanish Canary Islands, off the western coast of Northern Africa.

Traditional mojo marinades are filled with bitter oranges, a ton of garlic, and plenty of spice, but the garlic and citrus flavors really shine. 

The ingredients in mojo marinade can vary slightly. Cuban food is not spicy, so most recipe variations include adding a little onion to add to the allium flavors or mild chiles for just a little heat and flavor.

What Mojo is Used for

You can use Cuban mojo to marinate all your favorite proteins like chicken, meat, fish, and pork. It really goes with just about anything, especially in the summertime!

Allow the marinade to really soak into whatever you're cooking and then grill, roast, or slow cook to delicious perfection.

It can also be used as a sauce to dip or drizzle! A few of my favorites are with fried calamari, tossed in chimichurri potato salad, as a sauce for a seafood boil, or on sautéed asparagus.

Equipment

Marinade Ingredients You'll Need

Full ingredients, measurements, and printable instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

the ingredients needed to make cuban mojo marinade

Sour Orange Juice - this is not an unripened orange, it's actually a bitter orange called naranja agria. You want that freshly squeezed orange juice! You'll find them in the Hispanic or international markets, they're lumpy, odd looking oranges. You can also find sour orange juice in bottles sold by Badia at grocery stores.

Olive Oil.

Fresh Garlic - this recipe is garlic heavy, honey! If you're not a fan of garlic, you can always reduce the amount but it won't give that Cuban flavor you're looking for in your recipes. We're using at least a whole head of garlic, and I mean the big boy cloves!

Kosher Salt.

Cumin - this earthy spice is a must have, it is so obvious when it's missing!

Fresh Oregano.

Black Pepper.

How to Make Cuban Mojo Marinade

garlic smashed in a mortar and pestle

Step 1 | Make the garlic paste in the mortar and pestle! Smash the cloves of garlic with a hearty pinch of salt.

garlic, herbs, and spices mashed into garlic paste in a mortar

Step 2 | Add the spices and herbs. This is optional but I love smashing the garlic with them, it really brings out the oils in the oregano and black pepper.

someone whisking cuban mojo marinade together in a mixing bowl

Step 3 | Add the garlic paste to a bowl and pour in the oil and sour orange juice. Whisk it all together thoroughly.

close up of a jar of Cuban mojo criollo

Step 4 | Transfer the marinade to an airtight container to keep in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

Serving Suggestions

A great thing about this mojo is that you can use any method of cooking on any protein and it will come out absolutely delish.

  • Pollo Tropical's grilled chicken is really popular in South Florida. They even do whole chicken! Soak a whole chicken in mojo and beer can grill it for a seriously delicious
  • Marinate chicken thighs and potatoes overnight and roast them in the oven for an easy, flavorful mojo chicken dinner.
  • Chicken breasts take this marinade really well. Grill them or pan sear them, then add to salads. You could also use the unused mojo as a salad dressing!
  • Churrasco - this is mojo marinated skirt or flank steak that's grilled and so delicious!
  • Marinate pork shoulder overnight, then roast it or put it in the slow cooker for some amazing pernil (roast pork), or in the slow cooker for mojo pork. You can also marinate pork chops and pork tenderloin in it!

How Long to Marinate Each Protein in Mojo

The times can vary based on the thickness or toughness of the protein. If you're marinating pork chops or chicken breasts, it'll take less time to soak in than a pork shoulder or a beef roast!

ProteinMarination Time
Poultryfrom 1 hour to overnight
Beef1-3 hours, depending on cut
Pork2 hours to overnight, depending on cut
Seafoodno more than 30 minutes!
a bowl holding oregano cumin, and ground black pepper

Pro Tips

  • if you can't find sour oranges you can mix fresh 1 cup orange juice with ½ cup lime or lemon juice.
  • If you don't want to pound out the garlic paste in the mortar, you can use a food processor to chop everything into a mince.
  • Shake that jar up before using the marinade to blend all the ingredients back together. You want all that garlic and those spices to come out, too!
  • If you're using mojo as a sauce, I would suggest using a blender or immersion blender to get everything down to a smoother, more homogenous consistency.
  • Don't over-marinate your food! I keep telling y'all mojo is powerful for a reason. If you over-marinate, you risk those protein bonds completely dissolving and your meat turning into dry, crumbly, mush.
  • Dried oregano can be used instead of fresh, just use half of the amount of the fresh since dried can be more potent.

How to Store and Freeze Mojo Marinade

Store: Store mojo marinade in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks in the fridge.

Freeze: Pour the mojo into a freezer safe airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight, and shake up thoroughly before use.

a jar of cuban mojo marinade on a table with garlic and oranges

FAQs

What does mojo criollo taste like?

It's seriously garlicky, I use a ton of garlic in my mojo but if you're not a huge garlic lover then put maybe five or six garlic cloves. And the sour citrus flavor is all in there, too, since the base is sour oranges or orange juice mixed with lemon or lime juice if you can't find sour oranges.
Mixed with herbs and spices it makes a seriously powerful marinade full of bright, fresh flavor.

What does mojo mean?

Mojo means 'sauce' and its origins are from the Canary Islands off the western coast of Northern Africa.

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📖 Recipe

close up of a jar of Cuban mojo criollo

Mojo Criollo Marinade

Eden Westbrook
This authentic Cuban mojo marinade is a powerhouse of citrusy, garlicky flavor with fresh herbs and citrus juice. Let this marinade do all the heavy lifting for your pork, steak, chicken and fish or use the marinade as a mojo sauce!
4.61 from 74 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Course Sauces
Cuisine Cuban
Servings 2 cups
Calories 58 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ½ cups sour orange juice
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Instructions
 

  • In a mortar and pestle, smash and mash garlic cloves to break them open. Add salt, then crush, smash, and smear in the mortar with the pestle until the garlic breaks down and becomes smoother and more paste-like.
  • Add the oregano, cumin, and black pepper to the mortar and grind up until the garlic and spices are well smashed together.
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until well blended. Or use a blender to blend all the ingredients together until emulsified, which also can be used as a sauce over your food instead of a marinade!
  • Use as a marinade or sauce for any meat, poultry, or seafood. Keep your mojo marinade in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Notes

Pro Tips

This recipe is easily multiplied!
  • if you can't find sour oranges you can mix fresh 1 cup orange juice with ½ cup lime or lemon juice.
  • If you don't want to pound out the garlic paste in the mortar, you can use a food processor to chop everything into a mince.
  • Shake that jar up before using the marinade to blend all the ingredients back together.
  • If you're using mojo as a sauce, I would suggest using a blender or immersion blender to get everything down to a smoother consistency.
  • Don't over-marinate your food! If you over-marinate, you risk those protein bonds completely dissolving and your meat turning into dry, crumbly, mush.

How to Store and Freeze Mojo Marinade

Store: Store mojo marinade in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks in the fridge.
Freeze: Pour the mojo into a freezer safe airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight, and shake up thoroughly before use.

Marinating Times

  • Poultry - from 1 hour to overnight
  • Beef - 1-3 hours, depending on cut
  • Pork - 2 hours to overnight, depending on cut
  • Seafood - no more than 30 minutes!

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 58kcalCarbohydrates: 4gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gSodium: 150mgFiber: 1gSugar: 3g
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4 Comments

  1. Delicious. Tried on both bison steak and chicken breast, and it was awesome. Didn't have an orange on hand, so I used lime zest instead. Would that make any difference in the flavor? Because if it did, it was awesome. Definitely a keeper.

  2. Mayra Bisnow says:

    My son made this and it was better than my mother's traditional sauce. The addition of cumin and oregano made it really good.

  3. WOW, this was so good. I will always make this marinade. Was so good on last night's grilled chicken. Thank you for sharing your recipes.

  4. Dr. Oscar Linares says:

    Excellent!!!! Thank you for this recipe.