Get Your Mojo On With This Delicious Chicken Dish

A chicken dish that honors the flavors of Puerto Rico.
A chicken dish that honors the flavors of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico exists in the in-between.

The Caribbean island is a U.S. territory whose people are U.S. citizens. But yet, they cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections.

And when calamities like so many devastating hurricanes of late hit, Puerto Rico can seem even more isolated and alone.

Illyanna Maisonet aims to bridge that void with her thoughtful book, “Diasporican” (Ten Speed Press, 2022), of which I received a review copy.

Born in Sacramento to Puerto Ricans who moved stateside, she became the first Puerto Rican food columnist for a major newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle.

The cookbook includes more than 90 recipes, many of which she learned from her mother and grandmother, such as “Rabbit Fricassee with Chayote,” “Puerto Rican Laab,” “Pernil” (crispy-skin pork shoulder studded with garlic cloves), and “Ron del Barrilito Rum Cake.”

Through this feast, she shows how Puerto Rican cuisine shares commonalities with that of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philiippines, and take influences from Caribbean Taino, Spanish, and African cultures.

Maisonet writes that she doesn’t consider this a Puerto Rican cookbook. Rather, she wrote it for the “5.5 million people of Puerto Rican heritage now living stateside who continue to cook the food of our homeland.”

I’d say the reach is far greater. This is a book for anyone curious about a vibrant cuisine that ought to be far better known stateside.

Three different types of citrus combine in this sunny dish.
Three different types of citrus combine in this sunny dish.

Take a taste of “Mojo Braised Chicken” and you can practically taste the warmth of the Caribbean sun. Flush with orange, lemon, and lime juices, this dish is especially handy for anyone who has backyard citrus trees now groaning with ripe fruit.

This is an easy one-skillet dish. Chicken thighs get marinated in cumin, oregano, and achiote. Don’t worry if you don’t have achiote or annato powder on hand; you can always use paprika instead, which is what I did.

The recipe instructs to cook the chicken thighs skin-side down the entire time in the citrus juices, along with sauteed onion and garlic. Because chicken thighs are rarely all uniform in size and thickness, I found that it was hard to get the chicken cooked completely through this way. So, I amended the recipe below to first sear the chicken skin-side up for a few minutes in the pan before flipping them to skin-side down to cook for the remaining time. This way, you give the other side of the chicken a head-start. You can also help speed things along by periodically basting the top of the thighs by spooning some of the hot braising liquid over.

As the chicken cooks, the citrus juices reduce, much like when making glazed carrots.

The chicken emerges moist, with bronzed skin, and glazed with a sweet-tangy, sticky citrus sauce with bits of tender onion and garlic. The marinade lends the chicken a flavorful, sweet earthiness.

It’s a taste of Puerto Rico that’s sure to have you hankering for more.

Marinate the chicken the night before, and this dish cooks up easy enough for a weeknight dinner.
Marinate the chicken the night before, and this dish cooks up easy enough for a weeknight dinner.

Mojo Braised Chicken

(Makes 3 to 6 servings)

1 teaspoon ground achiote or paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 garlic cloves, coarsely minced

1 yellow onion minced

Juice of 2 oranges

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1 lemon

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the achiote or paprika, cumin, and oregano, and stir to mix. Rub the mixture over the chicken and let it marinate at cool room temperature for at least 1 hour or in the fridge overnight. (If the chicken is chilled, let it come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before roasting.)

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to a skillet and place over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onion and let them sweat for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until translucent. Transfer the garlic-onion mixture to a small bowl and set aside.

Without wiping out the skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and turn the heat to high. When the oil is hot, add the chicken skin-side up, and sear for about 4 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip over so the chicken is now skin-side down, and sear for another 4 to 5 minutes, or until brown. Add the garlic-onion mixture, orange juice, lime juice, and lemon juice to the pan and turn the heat to low. Bring to a simmer and braise, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked all the way through. You can periodically spoon some of the hot braising liquid over the tops of the chicken to help it cook evenly. Season with salt and pepper.

Garnish the chicken with the cilantro, if desired, and serve immediately.

Adapted from “Diasporican” by Illyanna Maisonet

More Chicken and Citrus Recipes to Enjoy: Chicken In A Pot with Lemon and Orzo by Nigella Lawson

And: Lemon and Apricot Cinnamon Chicken

And: Sauteed Chicken with Meyer Lemon

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