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Grilled mojo chicken should be on your July Fourth menu

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If you want to know what elevated grilled chicken tastes like, order mojo chicken from a Cuban rotisserie. The simple but lively combination of tart citrus and sweet garlic is grilled perfection.

However, try to replicate those flavors at home and you will realize that not every mojo chicken recipe is created equal. Mojo is basically a supercharged citrus vinaigrette. We set out to make one with balanced but bold citrus, garlic and herb flavors.

One of the key ingredients — sour oranges — are not readily available outside of Florida, so we had to find a substitution. We found it in a combination of fresh-squeezed regular orange juice and lime juice, plus grated orange and lime zests. To make the sauce more balanced and less bracing, we added pineapple juice. The tropical combination complemented the other flavors beautifully.

With the mojo on point, we turned to the grill. First, we slashed the raw chicken to the bone a few times so the marinade penetrated deeper and more quickly. We then started the chicken over low heat so the fat rendered and the chicken gently cooked through, and then we moved it over a hot fire for just a few minutes to crisp the skin. For an extra hit of flavor, once the chicken came off the grill, we doused it with more mojo.

When we took that first bites of the finished dish, we knew we finally had this mojo working — and that it would be a staple on our summertime cookout menus.

Grilled Mojo Chicken (Serves 4 to 6)

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest plus 1/3 cup juice
  • 2 teaspoons lime zest plus 1/3 cup juice (3 limes)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno chile
  • 6 (10-ounce) chicken leg quarters, trimmed

1. Heat oil and garlic in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until tiny bubbles appear and the garlic is fragrant and straw-colored, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes.

2. Whisk pineapple juice, mustard, orange zest and juice, lime zest and juice, cumin, oregano and 3/4 teaspoon pepper together in medium bowl. Slowly whisk in cooled garlic oil until emulsified.

3. Transfer half of the mojo mixture to a small bowl and stir in cilantro, jalapeno, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; set aside mojo sauce.

4. Whisk 1 tablespoon salt into the remaining mojo mixture until dissolved. Transfer mojo marinade to a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag.

5. Place chicken, skin side up, on a cutting board and pat dry with paper towels. Leaving drumsticks and thighs attached, make four parallel diagonal slashes in each piece of chicken: one across the drumstick, one across the leg-thigh joint and two across the thigh (slashes should reach bone). Flip chicken and make one more diagonal slash across back of each drumstick. Transfer chicken to the bag with mojo marinade. Seal bag, turn to coat chicken, and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 24 hours.

6A. For a charcoal grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When the top coals are partially covered with ash, pour two-thirds of the coals evenly over half of grill, then pour remaining coals over the other half of grill. Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill, and open the lid vent completely. Heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

6B. For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn the primary burner to medium and turn other burner(s) to low. (Adjust the primary burner as needed to maintain a grill temperature between 400 and 425 F.)

7. Clean and oil the cooking grate. Divide reserved mojo sauce equally between two bowls. Remove chicken from zipper-lock bag and place on the cooler side of the grill, skin side up; discard marinade. Cover and cook until the underside of the chicken is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Using the first bowl of mojo, baste chicken, then flip chicken and baste the second side (use all of first bowl). Cover and continue to cook until leg-thigh joint registers 165 F, about 15 minutes longer.

8. Slide chicken to the hotter side of the grill, keeping the skin side down, and cook (covered if using gas) until skin is well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip chicken and continue to cook until the leg-thigh joint registers 175 F, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a platter and spoon remaining mojo sauce from the second bowl over top. Tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve.

Recipe note: Canned and bottled pineapple juices are both great in this recipe, but when it comes to the citrus, we highly recommend using freshly squeezed juice.

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