“Al mojo” means “in sauce” and it may refer to different herbs and spices, but in Mexico it has always been a mix of olive oil, butter, a hint of lime, salt and pepper, and tons of chopped garlic. The original recipe came from Spain’s “gambas al ajillo” – a garlic mojo with shrimp – to the Mexican state of Guerrero, known there as “Camarones al mojo de ajo” (shrimp in garlic sauce). I don’t know how the transition was made to fish filets instead of shrimp, but I remember the dish clearly since my youth, because I am allergic to shellfish, so the fish filets in garlic sauce were my haven in restaurant menus during holidays by the beach with my family or friends. It is often served with rice, but I like it better with a side of boiled potatoes, to soak up all the buttery mojo.
I found frozen wild sole skinless filets at the supermarket. I put them in the refrigerator to let them thaw overnight. The next day, I started by preparing a marinade with a peeled clove of garlic that I cut into quarters and bruised with the back of my knife, to which I added salt, pepper and white wine vinegar in a deep dish. I unpacked the fish filets, patted each dry with paper towels, and coated the filets with the mixture in the deep dish, letting them marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, I peeled about a dozen garlic cloves, chopped them with the knife – not with the garlic mincer – and set them aside. I washed a couple of limes and some red skinned potatoes. I placed the potatoes in a large pot, covered them with water and brought them to boil on high heat; I lowered the heat to keep the water simmering, and cooked the potatoes until they were tender, but still firm. I drained the water, and kept the potatoes in the pot, covered, so they would stay hot.
The timing was good to start cooking the fish. In a large frying pan, I heated olive oil, then I added a slightly larger quantity of good quality butter, keeping the heat just high enough to melt the butter, but without smoking it.
I continued stirring to let the butter melt slowly, until it was all uniform, and the mixture started bubbling. I added the reserved chopped garlic, and cooked it, stirring constantly, for about a minute. I wanted the garlic very lightly browned, and I knew it was ready when the delicious aroma reached my nose.
I removed the fish from the marinade (and discarded the marinade); I cooked the filets for about 3 minutes, flipping very carefully halfway, and kept stirring the garlic around the filets to avoid too much browning. When the filets were not translucent anymore, I finished with a sprinkle of lime juice. I plated a couple of pieces of fish per portion, poured a generous amount of the mojo on top, and arranged quartered potatoes next to the fish, with lime wedges on the side (see photo at the top of the post.)
Note – An alternative method of cooking the fish renders a crispy layer on the filets: after removing from the marinade, coat the filets with flour on both sides. The mojo is prepared as above, but reserved aside; the filets are pan fried in a little olive oil in a separate frying pan, until golden brown on both sides. The plating is the same as above, or for young sensitivities, the mojo may be served separately, or even replaced with ketchup or Thousand Islands dressing. A side of mashed potatoes might appeal more to the youngsters, as well.