Thu Jul 14, 2011
I've saved the best for last on what has become almost a month long journey through the Cuban grill. Last week I passed off Mojo—a sour orange and garlic sauce—as a mere dip for tostones. While it preforms that task quite well, it didn't touch upon my true enthusiasm for the sauce and how it creates the absolute most delicious rotisserie chicken I've ever had.
This recipe was born out of my unconditional love for a chicken at a Cuban joint near my work. For years I've been enjoying their juicy rotisserie birds that have a tangy, rich, and semi-crisp skin that brings me into an transcendent state each time I eat it. Since I pull off all the skin and save it to end my meal with, those savory moments have given me plenty of time to consider what makes it so great, but not being too familiar with Latin American cooking, it took some experimentation at home to find that Mojo sauce seems to give me the closest approximation at home.
My original explorations with Mojo had me using equal parts orange and lime juice to compensate for a lack of sour oranges. Since then, I've found a local source of them and I think it's made a pretty big difference to quality and authenticity of my Mojo. Sour orange serves as a base, with plenty of garlic worked into a paste giving the second most distinct flavor to the sauce. Olive oil, oregano, and cumin finish it off, and while I've come across many recipes that also use cilantro, at least for this chicken, I have never added it.
Once the discovery of this sauce was made, the rest of the chicken quickly fell into place. I use about 2/3 of the sauce to marinate the chicken. Due to its heavy acidity, I keep that time to a minimum, 2 to 6 hours tops. This allows some Mojo penetration to the meat, but a lot of the flavor will come from the reserved portion of the sauce.
As the chicken rotates over a medium fire, I brush on the remaining sauce on about every 20 minutes. This, along with the rendering fat that's self-basting the bird, combines to create the beautifully colored exterior that makes this so irresistible to me.
Of course, as with most rotisserie chickens, the meat is pretty excellent, but as I look at this photo of the finished bird, its those little black patches that really has my mouth watering. The strong acidity of the sauce brings an enormous amount of flavor here, with the bite of garlic still packing a punch. The darkened parts are where this combination meets some crispness, with a crunch that holds all the flavors of heaven. Ok, I can't take it any longer, I am out to fulfill upon all of the desires that writing this post has brought on and grab a chicken gor lunch.
8 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup fresh sour orange juice, or 1/3 cup of fresh orange juice and 1/3 cup of fresh lime juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 (3 to 4 pound) roasting chicken
1. To make the Mojo sauce, Place garlic in a mortar and pestle. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and work into a smooth paste. In a small bowl, whisk together garlic, sour orange juice, oil, oregano, cumin. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. Wash the chicken inside and out and remove any excess fat. Place in a large Ziploc bag and pour in about 2/3 of the mojo sauce, reserving the rest. Seal the bag and toss to evenly distribute the marinade, then open and reseal the bag, removing as much air as possible. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 6 hours.
3. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature while you prepare the grill. Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal. When the charcoal is fully lit and covered in gray ash, pour the coals out and arrange them on either side of the charcoal grate, keeping the middle empty. Place chicken on the rotisserie and cook at 300 degrees until an instant read thermometer registers 165 degrees in the thickest part of the breast, about 1 1/2 hours. Baste the chicken every 20-30 minutes with the reserved mojo sauce while cooking. Remove the chicken from the rotisserie and let rest for 15 minutes, carve and serve.