Mojo Shrimp- This quick and easy garlicky and tangy shrimp recipe is a fantastic way to experience Cuban cuisine! It's gluten free, and the mojo marinade is a practically universal seasoning.
Where I grew up in central Florida, the flavors of Cuba were everywhere. This is an under appreciated style of cuisine, very bright and fresh, with many elements drawn from tastes and textures that are refreshingly unique.
These unctuous, plump, and garlicky Cuban mojo shrimp are a perfect introduction to this sophisticated and exciting island's contribution to the culinary landscape. I guarantee that you will fall in love with them.
What is Mojo?
Cuban Mojo, mojo sauce,(or mojo criollo), is primarily a marinade, but quite often a condiment also. It has an irresistibly citrus tang, followed with a garlic, cumin, and oregano backbone. The smooth fruitiness and unctuous texture of extra virgin olive oil holds it all together.
Quite often people assume any Latin or Island cuisine is synonymous with spicy heat. Mojo, as well as Cuban food in general, is deliciously spiced, but never spicy hot. This cuisine is a heavenly example of the use of local and native ingredients in order to best accentuate the flavor of the foods of the region.
I'll illuminate the mojo mystery by shining a light on each of the marinade ingredients within. Like all marinades, it contains acid, aromatics, spices/herbs, and oil.
The traditional source of acid in mojo is a type of citrus called sour, or bitter orange, (naranja agria),. If you can find these in your area, use them in this recipe. The juice from them may also be in your area, which of course is also perfect for this recipe. This is the brand name that I know and trust. If you live in an area where you can't find this ingredient, you can make a pretty good approximation of the flavor with an orange juice and lime juice mixture, like in the mojo shrimp recipe below. The resulting juice should be sour, not sweet really.
The aromatic vegetables in mojo are garlic and onion. I will give a word of warning, if you don't like garlic, this is not the dish for you. Cuban people love garlic, and this is no exception. The garlic is usually crushed into a paste, and the onion is minced. I minced my garlic here, so as to make sure that it doesn't burn when cooking the shrimp. If you would like to puree the garlic, just make sure to thoroughly remove it from the shrimp before cooking.
The spice and herb combination typical in this cuisine is cumin and oregano. They are used here also. Cumin provides a flavor that I would describe as warm and earthy. Oregano has an interestingly vegetal astringency that rounds out this sauce perfectly. Fresh oregano is not absolutely essential, but I really only make mojo when I can get it from our garden.
The final, but not to be forgotten or overlooked ingredient, is extra virgin olive oil. So much has been said about this all time classic ingredient, that I need not waste space on a description. A good quality Spanish origin example is ideal, but any high quality candidate will work quite well.
- Shrimp - Peeled and deveined, large, raw shrimp. Sizing of shrimp can be confusing, especially when non-specific terms like "large" or "jumbo" is all that are available. Look carefully on the packaging for a number range, like 21-25. this indicates how many pieces are in a pound approximately. The higher the number, the larger they will be.
- Oranges - See the section above about mojo for information about the ideal oranges. If sour ones are not an option, try to find thin skinned, juicing varieties, as opposed to the ones that are sweeter and for eating out of hand.
- Limes - When picking out limes, give them a squeeze. If the skin is very thick and doesn't give at all, they most likely will not contain a lot of juice.
- Oregano - As stated above, fresh oregano is ideal, but dry can be subbed in a pinch.
- Garlic - I cannot stand behind this recipe if fresh garlic is not used in it.
- Cumin - A smoky and warm flavor that is essential to most Cuban cuisine.
- Chili Powder - This is a personal touch that we put in for more smoky flavor, entirely optional.
- Sugar - This is also an optional ingredient. The shrimp benefit from a tiny bit of sugar in order to get a really nice sear, we've found.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil - The flavor of this is important, so make sure that it's high quality.
Doing all of the prep work. Pick the herbs, peel and mince the garlic, (both grown in our garden), give the citrus a squeeze and cut, etc. This prep time should only take a few minutes.
Mix it all together. This is not intended to be emulsified, so no need to try to make it thicken, just incorporated.
Marinating the shrimp. The timing is key here, the acid and seasonings in this will go to work on the meat quickly. This can cause the shrimp to get dry and rubbery if left in for too long. You will notice them getting a slightly cooked appearance pretty much right away.
I love these action shots, doesn't Chris do a wonderful job? These are illustrating the necessity of working with a hot pan when searing. You can see in the first shot that the skillet is very hot, can you hear the sizzle? If you don't, the pan isn't hot enough. In the second shot, you can see how you can move the already seared guys to one side in order to let the other side get hot to sear the next batch. Shrimp cook quickly, so this method works well here. I wouldn't do this with pork chops! Side Note: these could also be grilled using the same discipline.
Once the shrimp are cooked, remove from the pan and deglaze with the marinade. Notice that some of the citrus and dissolved protein from the crustaceans will coagulate a bit, just give it a stir, that's flavor right there.
At the top: mount knobs of cold butter into the hot, (but not boiling!), pan, keeping the temperature constant. Bottom: The lovely, lightly thickened glaze.
The finished shrimp after being coated with the sauce. Great served with just about anything, like couscous, rice, or even on fresh salad greens.
Variations for Mojo Marinade
As I mentioned earlier, this marinade is useful for anything that you would like to make in the Cuban style.
Can I marinate the shrimp overnight?
- We don't suggest leaving shrimp in this marinade longer than an hour, since the citrus is very acidic, and will start to "cook" the meat right away. Leaving them in too long will cause the finished product to be dry and rubbery. If you want to modify the marinade, and leave the citrus out, they can sit in the rest of the seasonings overnight, and then you can add the citrus closer to the cooking time.
How to cook shrimp perfectly? - You want to make sure that your pan is hot enough to cause the shrimp to sizzle in the oil, firstly. Test the pan by touching the surface with just the edge of one of the pieces. If you don't hear and see the bubbling, it's not ready yet. Then cook them in small enough batches in order to not cool down the pan too much. You'll know when to turn them over in the pan when you see them start to get opaque and pink around the edges. As soon as they feel firm to the touch, and do not yield when poked, they are done.
These cooked shrimp should stay fresh when tightly sealed in the refrigerator for about three days.
Reheat them very gently covered in the microwave, or very briefly in a hot skillet. They are just as delicious cold also, if you want to avoid overcooking them.
- 1 Cutting Board
- 1 Chef Knife
- 1 Mixing Bowl
- 1 measuring spoons
- 1 Measuring cup set
- 1 tongs
- 1 sauté pan
- 1 citrus juicer ( you can use a fork)
- 1 whisk
- 1 lb. Peeled deveined 10 to 25 jumbo or extra large shrimp ( see post for more specifics )
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano ( you can use dried, use half a tablespoon )
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoon cold butter
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Place all of the ingredients accept the shrimp in a mixing bowl and whisk together
- Add the shrimp to the mixing bowl
- Marinade the shrimp for 10 minutes making sure not to leave it to long, because the citrus will cook the shrimp
- Heat your sauté pan on high heat until very hot
- Place the shrimp in the pan very carefully using tongs, making sure to space them, don't crowd the pan, it will cool it down and you wont sear your shrimp
- As the shrimp sear on one side, flip them and move them over and add more shrimp to the pan
- Once all the shrimp are cooked through ( about 10-12 minutes) or until pink remove them from the pan and set aside
- Add the remaining marinade to the pan and simmer to reduce the liquid by half
- Once reduced, turn of the heat and add the butter one tablespoon at a time swirling it to combine with the pan liquid creating a sauce
- Pour the finished sauce over the shrimp and enjoy!