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Mojo Criollo is the signature Cuban marinade that goes on just about anything! Full of intense garlic and citrus flavors that really bring life and impact to whatever meat, poultry, or seafood you're marinating.
As someone who spent most of her adolescence growing up in sunny South Florida, I can honestly say I can bring you this recipe without someone's Cuban grandmother getting mad and throwing a chancla at me.
You probably didn't grow up in Miami if you didn't see someone have a bottle of Mojo in their kitchen somewhere, whether homemade or store-bought.
You've never been to the Caribbean, or even Miami, but you know what it tastes like now. Be prepared: some very loud music will subbenly start playing in the background, most likely it's El Baile del Beeper, and you'll have the sudden urge to paint your home in bright colors and decorate with old fashioned furniture from El Dorado.
You will go online to find Britto artwork. Maybe order a suitcase and a pair of salt and pepper shakers.
Okay, so maybe not all that, but it's still really, really good. Also, so is our music here.
What is Mojo Criollo?
Mojo Criollo, or Cuban mojo marinade, --it's pronounced Moh-Hoh-- is this intense, savory, garlicky, sour citrus marinade that is used in Cuban cooking. And we use it on a lot of different meats here, not just chicken, but pork, beef, and even shrimp and other seafood.
Mojo is one of my favorite marinades to use because it's keto-friendly, gluten-free, and super healthy. It's the first marinade I think of whenever I get asked for a recipe since it's so versatile and can fit anyone's lifestyle. And it's not spicy at all, so anyone who can't handle spice can still get some Latin flavor in their diet. It flavors everything it marinates with the taste that you just know is from Cuba.
What does mojo marinade 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 like oregano, spices like cumin, and the added citrus oils from the zest along with the fruitiness of olive oil really make mojo criollo a seriously powerful marinade full of bright, fresh flavor.
How to Make Mojo Marinade
To make this authentically go to the Hispanic or Caribbean market in your town, if you have one, and grab about 3-6 sour oranges. Yes, they are specifically called 'sour oranges', or naranja agria, and they are what is used traditionally in mojo criollo.
They are sour -even a little bitter- in taste and bright yellow...kind of ugly and dimply, like an old orange. In other words, they're perfect!
Or you might find a bottle of 'sour orange juice' from Goya or Badia in the spice or hispanic aisle of your grocery store. If you can't find these oranges or the sour orange juice, just use equal parts naval oranges and lime juice. This will still give a sour citrus flavor.
Traditionally, mojo is 'sour orange, a ton of garlic, and salt' and that's it. But you'll find that the bottled stuff is also full of spices and herbs, and many homemade versions are as well (so I am still safe from la chancleta).
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This recipe has an absurd amount of garlic. Ten cloves, and I suggest you either invest in a garlic press for easy intense garlic flavor, rather than having to finely mince it by hand, or do it the traditional way (as per the recipe) and make a garlic paste with a mortar and pestle. Grinding the garlic cloves with coarser salt (don't use table salt) to make the paste really brings out that strong, garlic flavor you're looking for.
When you make the mojo, keep it in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks. Oil can go rancid, so I wouldn't keep it for more than a month, though mine never lasts that long because we use it so often.
A great way to store your mojo marinade, especially when you make big batches, is to freeze it in silicone ice cube molds. I use them just like I do for homemade sofrito, taking a few cubes at a time whenever I need it for a recipe. And it'll stay good in the freezer for over a year!
What to make with mojo marinade
I love mojo with basically every protein. Fish, shrimp, pork, beef, chicken. Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use mojo:
- Instant Pot Carnitas
- Slow Cooker Carnitas
- Churrasco (marinated grilled skirt steak)
- Carne Asada
- Sheet Pan Mojo Chicken and Potatoes
- A mortar and pestle for smashing the garlic into garlic paste the traditional way.
- A garlic press in case you don't want to deal with a bunch of smashing.
- A blender for emulsifying, which is great when you want to use the mojo as a sauce.
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- 2 cups (473 mL) sour orange juice
- 10 cloves fresh garlic
- 2 tsp kosher or sea salt
- Zest of 1 orange
- ⅓ cup (80 mL) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 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.
- In a medium-sized 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 for any meat, poultry, or seafood.
- Keep your mojo marinade in an air-tight container for 2 weeks.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 58Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 150mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 0g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.