We went out for Cuban food in Miami last night at a diner where all the young table staff seemed to be calling the man who seated us “Tío” as they raced back and forth through the packed dining room. The main culinary activity took place in the blender (“the waitress cannot come because she is making your chakes now,” we were told) and in the deep fryer. So it was all pretty delicious. I think we ate the best tostones I have ever had. If you have never experienced them, tostones are crisp little Frisbees made of green plaintains and they owe their most appealing qualities to the fact that they are fried not once but twice. These were fried exceptionally well both times, and enhanced by a sauce that I yelped for when the waitress attempted to clear it. Later on, after I had poured it all over my black beans and rice, I asked her what was in it. “Garlic, lemon juice, bay leaf,” I said, and she nodded. “Also vinegar,” she added. “But the rest of the ingredients are all a secret. It’s the secrets that make the food so delicious, so we can’t tell the rest.” She made an expression of sympathy for my long face, then added, “Es muy rica, no?” as if to remind me that there was ample consolation for my disappointment to be found in just eating it. She had a point.
The lack of honor in the room was made plain by my asking the Tío fellow the same question as we departed, and by his telling me the answer. “Not much lemon juice. Instead they use naranja amarga, which gives a better flavor. And a little pepper. And some parsley.” To make sure I understood, he moved the main ingredients into English for me. “BEE-tair OH-ronj. Leaf of LOW-rell. And what do you call it? Seelery? No, PAIRslee.” I saw no evidence of parsley in the dish on the table, so I think it must be removed after imparting its flavor.
The beetair ohronj he referred to seems, upon googling, to be a Seville orange, and the concoction itself Mojo (“mo-ho”) Sauce, for which there appear to be roughly fifty million formulas on the surface of the internet. Some have raw garlic, some include onion, some have butter or chile or basil or cilantro or oregano. Not right. A lot of the ones I saw online featured cumin, which I love, but that was definitely not a feature of what I ate.
For those of us lacking a Seville orange tree in the yard–and that would be a highly controversial plant, as it happens, because the extract of same is now marketed as an appetite suppressant that can kill you–it appears you can substitute a mixture of fresh lime juice and fresh orange juice, plus some orange extract. I used a scrape of orange zest instead. I can tell you, if you are able to get your mitts on some Seville oranges, that neither appetite suppression nor death appeared to result in any immediate way from the sauce, at least not in the quantity I ingested, which was substantial.
The woman in the market where I bought the PAIR-slee and the oh-ranj said with total disdain that mojo sauce could not be prepared with a mere navel orange, even if a lime was called into play, and this strong opinion was in spite of the fact that she freely admitted that she was Chilean.
Maybe she is right. I think this one below, a triangulation from a very straightlaced author and the information I got in my eyes, ears, and gaping beak last night, is pretty tasty, but it wasn’t what we ate. Everyone agreed on that. “This isn’t quite it,” they said, ladling more onto their plates. Clearly there is room for variation.
For those of us unwilling to make twice-fried anything to serve this on, it seems to work equally well on top of grilled or steamed or roasted anything, as well as rice and beans.
1/3 cup olive oil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
Combine in a measuring cup with a spout:
2/3 cup sour orange juice or lime juice
(or equal portions orange juice and lime juice, plus a drop of orange extract or a scrape of orange zest)
2T white vinegar
2 bay leaves, torn
a few stalks of parsley, whole
About a teaspoon of coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the olive oil in a deep saucepan over medium heat until a test piece of garlic sizzles lightly. Add the rest of the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Don’t let it brown or it will be bitter.
Add the remaining ingredients. STAND BACK or the resulting sputter may disfigure you. Bring to a low boil. Remove from heat and remove the parsley. Taste and correct salt and pepper, if needed.
Makes about a cup of sauce, which is a lot. The extra will keep, and maybe you have a nice jar to put it in. We did not.