Want a zesty, flavorful marinade for pork, chicken and seafood? This easy Caribbean mojo marinade borrows from the classic Cuban mojo criollo recipe (but without sour oranges, which can be difficult to find depending on where you live). This rendition is a blend of fresh citrus, a hefty dose of garlic, dried and fresh herbs and spices and a scotch bonnet or other hot pepper for a little kick. (Don’t worry, you can use as much or as little as you like in this mojo recipe).
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skill level: beginner
This recipe uses basic chopping and juicing skills. You’ll need a mini food processor and citrus juicer.
What is mojo criollo and where did it come from?
In cooking, mojo, (pronounced moh-hoh) literally means “sauce”.
Mojo Criollo – is a garlicky citrus sauce or marinade that’s prolific throughout Cuba and the Caribbean.
The forerunners of mojo criollo actually originated in the autonomous Spanish Canary Islands and featured both red and green versions of sauce. The Canary mojo red sauce made of red peppers like piménton and green comprised of green peppers, cilantro or parsley.
Conversely, traditional Cuban mojo marinade uses lots of citrus (like sour oranges and lime), loads of garlic but without any added heat.
This recipe is my own Flori-bbean hybrid on the classic Cuban version. It’s quick and easy to make and adds wonderful flavor and aroma to your favorite proteins.
Do I need sour oranges for this mojo recipe?
Most Caribbean and Cuban mojo marinade recipes start with sour oranges. If you live in in a tropical island chain, South Florida, California or even Texas, locating bitter oranges won’t be an issue, but anywhere else is hit or miss. Not to fear, you don’t need them for this mojo criollo.
I designed this mojo criollo recipe for folks without access to sour oranges at their local grocer. Instead, this one uses everyday citrus like lemons, limes and tangerines or oranges, so please don’t rail on me and tell me that it’s not authentic Cuban. I’m well aware.
If you can get sour oranges where you are, you can certainly use them in this marinade in place of the oranges. They will give the recipe a more intense flavor.
Why we love mojo criollo
Here in South Florida, we have access to great citrus AND we do a lot of grilling, so I’m always looking for marinades, rubs and sauces to perk up a simple grilled chicken breast or pork chops. This recipe is in constant rotation.
You’ll love mojo criollo as a marinade that tenderizes meat and infuses it with citrusy, garlicky flavors. Ground cumin makes it a little smoky and it’s fairly easy to make. This Cuban-inspired citrus marinade goes great with poultry, pork, beef, veal and seafood.
What you’ll need for Caribbean mojo marinade
- Fresh Lime Juice
- Fresh Lemon Juice
- Fresh Tangerine Juice (or substitute orange juice)
- Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Ground Cumin
- Fresh Cilantro
- Dried Oregano
- Scotch Bonnet, Habanero or Serrano Pepper (optional)
Fresh citrus juice makes a big difference in this mojo recipe. Skip the pasteurized orange juice or bottled lime juice and squeeze it yourself.
You’ll need 1/3 cup of each of the citrus juices. Depending on how juicy your fruit is, that could be anywhere from 3 to 5 lemons and limes and 2-3 tangerines or oranges.
I used tangerines instead of oranges because I think tangerines (mandarins) have a more intense and unique flavor, but either one will work.
The best way to juice citrus
I have a simple hand held citrus juicer by Chef’n. It’s sturdier than the metal lemon and lime juicers and it does a fine job of extracting juice from the fruit. I recommend this one because it will stand up to a lot of pressure without breaking or cracking the way the metal one’s can.
It took me about 10 minutes to yield enough juice from my mound of lemons, limes and oranges, but it’s worth it.
Fresh citrus gives the whole kitchen a fresh vibrant scent that perks you right up.
Tips for prepping ingredients:
You’ll need a lot of garlic for this Caribbean mojo marinade (remember, it’s supposed to have big, bold flavors). To keep it simple, I give the garlic a rough chop and then assemble the other ingredients (except the hot peppers) in a mini food processor.
The mini chopper quickly breaks down the garlic and herbs, but you can also do it by hand.
Pro Tip: If you’re not using a food processor, be sure to mince the garlic and cilantro very finely or grind them with a mortar and pestle to pull out the most flavor.
Once the citrus is juiced, making the mojo is easy.
Assembling mojo criollo marinade
- Add the roughly chopped garlic, cumin, kosher salt, pepper, oregano, chopped cilantro and citrus juices to the mini food processor.
- Pulse several times to break down the garlic and cilantro.
- Add the olive oil and pulse again to combine.
- Transfer the mojo criollo to a bowl and stir in finely minced hot pepper (to taste).
Note: Classic Cuban mojo marinades don’t include a spicy component and that’s another spot where this mojo recipe differs from others.
How long do I marinate proteins in the mojo criollo?
It depends on what type of protein you’re using. For seafood like fish or shrimp, 15 to 20 minutes should be ample. Chicken breasts, pork chops and flank steaks typically only need 1 to 2 hours, depending on their thickness.
Pour the marinade over the protein (I like a zip-top baggie) and refrigerate it to marinade. Flip the bag around several times to ensure an even penetration.
Because the mojo criollo is primarily citrus juice (acidic) you don’t want to over-marinate. It can actually toughen the meat if it soaks too long.
After marinating the protein in the mojo criollo, remove it and pat the surface of the meat dry with paper towels before cooking/grilling.
How long will the marinade last?
For the freshest flavor, I recommend using this mojo criollo the day that you make it. After a few days, the cilantro will lose its freshness, therefore it’s better when you use it the same day.
What is the yield?
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of marinade, which should be enough for about 2 pounds of meat or seafood, but can be doubled if you want more.
What does mojo criollo taste like?
To me, mojo is bright and intense. You’ll love how this Cuban inspired mojo flavors your meat and seafood, infusing it with citrusy, garlicky flavors.
Ground cumin makes it a little smoky and depending on the peppers you use (and the quantity) it has a subtle, but detectable heat. Of course, you can adjust the spice level according to your tastes.
This Cuban-inspired citrus marinade goes great with chicken, pork, beef, veal and seafood.
More mojo and citrus inspired marinades and recipes:
- Sour Orange Marinated Butterflied Chicken
- Easy Marinated Roast Turkey Breast
- French Orange Dijon Chicken
Mojo Criollo Marinade
- 1/3 cup lime juice fresh squeezed
- 1/3 cup lemon juice fresh squeezed
- 1/3 cup tangerine juice fresh squeezed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried greek oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 6 large cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro roughly chopped
- 1/2 habanero pepper or serrano seeded, finely minced (can also use 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
TO MAKE IN THE FOOD PROCESSOR:
- Combine all the ingredients except habanero pepper into mini food processor.
- Pulse several times until ingredients are chopped well and combined. Transfer the sauce to a bowl or storage container. Add the hot pepper and stir. Refrigerate until ready to use for marinade.
TO ASSEMBLE IN A BOWL.
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over chicken, pork chops, veal or seafood and marinate for 1-2 hours. For larger pieces of meat, marinate for 4-6 hours to more fully penetrate.
- Can be made up to two days in advance. Use as a marinade for chicken, pork, veal and seafood or as a sauce to drizzle over grilled proteins.