Mojarra frita or fried mojarra is one of the easiest Mexican recipes. The dish consists of whole fried fish, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside; served with a variety of side dishes.
The star of the dish is the mojarra, an inexpensive yet delicious fish. Learn how to make it with our super easy recipe.
What is mojarra frita?
Mojarra frita is a Mexican dish very popular in the coastal states. It consists of a whole mojarra fish cleaned, seasoned, deep-fried, and served with various accompaniments.
Even though you will find this dish served all year round, is important to know that fried mojarra is especially popular during Lent (Cuaresma) and it’s a tradition to eat it on Good Friday.
The secret of the mojarra frita is to marinade the fish with some seasonings. Then, the entire fish is coated with flour and fried in plenty of oil until it is nice and crispy.
I come from a coastal town in Colima, Mexico, and we serve fried mojarras with white rice, pico de gallo, slices of cucumber and orange, and various salsas. That’s how I prefer it and I recommend you try it like this at least once for a more authentic experience.
Is Mojarra the Same as Tilapia?
The word mojarra describes a family of fish, which includes around 53 different species. In Mexico and Latin America in general, “mojarra” describes a variety of species, including tilapia, so it is indeed the same thing.
How to Know If Fish Is Fresh
If you want to make mojarra frita, you need to make sure your fish is truly fresh. Otherwise, the dish won’t be as flavorful or clean. The first thing you need to do is smell the fish. Fresh fish doesn’t have a strong or fishy scent. On the contrary, it smells quite mild.
Next, you want to touch the fish to check the flesh. When you poke it, the flesh should bounce back and the skin shouldn’t look dull at all. Fresh fish has a slight metallic glow and tight scales.
Another thing you can do is check the eyes. Fresh fish will have bulging eyes that look shiny and clear. If the eyes are sunken or cloudy, it means the fish is old. Checking the gills is also useful; they should be bright pink or reddish and moist, not dry or dull.
How to Clean Fish
Once you have your fresh fish and you’re ready to make fried mojarra, you have to clean the fish very well before cooking. Usually, fish is already gutted because it allows it to stay fresh.
So, you want to start by rinsing the inside and outside of the fish very well with water.
Then, you have to remove the scales. To do this, you want to hold the fish by the tail and use the back of a knife to scrape the scales off. You can also use a spoon or any dull utensil.
Make sure you scrape in the opposite direction of the scales and be thorough. Rinse the fish again and it’s ready to cook!
Can I make this recipe with other types of fish?
Yes! You can use red snapper or porgy fish, but the best you can do is ask your local fishmonger which fish he reccomend for frying whole.
How To Make Fried Mojarra
Place 2 large cloves of garlic peeled in a molcajete or mortar. Add 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a pinch of coarse salt. Add a few drops of lime juice and mash until you will have a smooth paste.
Add the remaining juice of the lime to the paste and mix well. Use the mixture to spread nicely out and inside the fish. *You can also make 3 diagonal cuts on each side of the fish so the seasonings will infuse it better.
Place the seasoned fish in a dish, cover with cling film, and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Place all-purpose flour on a large plate, coat nicely the mojarra fish on all sides, then make sure to shake well to remove excess.
In a large heavy pan, heat a good glug of frying oil (about half a cup) over medium heat.
Carefully add the fish to the pan and fry on one side. Use a large spoon to baste the fish with the hot oil as its cooking.
Cook for about 5 minutes, depending on how thick your fish is. Once you see the side in contact with the pan starts to brown, use two spatulas and carefully flip the fish to fry on the other side.
Keep cooking until the fish is nicely golden and crispy, flipping from time to time. The time will depend on how big your fish is.
Remove mojarra frita from the hot oil and place in a paper-lined plate. Then repeat with the other fish.
You can also fry as many fish as they fit in your pan but make sure they don’t overcrowd it.
How To Eat
As I mentioned before, in my hometown mojarra frita or generally any fried fish will be served with rice or pasta, various vegetables like cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, lime juice, and of course, salsas. See below some recipes you might want to try to serve your fried mojarra.
- Arroz blanco. Mexican white rice, plain or with vegetables, this is a must side dish!
- Ensalada de coditos. Mexican macaroni salad with mayonnaise, ham, and various vegetables, our recipe includes pineapple which adds a nice touch.
- Cabbage Salad. Tangy, crunchy and perfect to accompany fried fish.
- Guacamole. You can’t go wrong with this classic side dish.
- Pico de gallo. Other favorite, go with the classic version or try our mango pico de gallo recipe.
- As for salsa, we have lots of options! Take a look to our collection of Mexican salsas and get inspired.
Got some leftovers?
If you have some mojarra frita leftovers, you can turn them into tacos for next day’s lunch or dinner. Here is how:
- Shred the meat discarding all bones and place them in an airtight container.
- Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- When ready to make your tacos, heat the meat in a non-stick pan.
- Heat some tortillas and stuff them with shredded fish.
- Add shredded lettuce or cabbage, then some diced tomato and onion.
- Drizzle with your favorite salsa (cilantro lime salsa is perfect!).
- Squeeze some lime juice and enjoy!
- 2 mojarra fish (about 9 oz each)
- 2 garlic cloves (peeled)
- ¼ tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
- 1 lime (juice)
- all-purpose flour (as needed)
- oil for frying (as needed)
- coarse salt
- Place the garlic cloves in a molcajete or mortar.
- Add black peppercorns, cumin seeds, and a pinch of coarse salt. Add a few drops of lime juice and mash until you will have a smooth paste.
- Add the remaining juice of the lime to the paste and mix well. Use the mixture to spread out and inside the fish (read notes).
- Place the seasoned fish in a dish, cover with cling film, and marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge.
- Place all-purpose flour on a large plate, coat nicely the mojarra fish on all sides, then make sure to shake well to remove excess flour.
- In a large heavy pan, heat a good glug of frying oil (about 1 cup) over medium heat.
- Carefully add the fish to the pan and fry on one side. Use a large spoon to baste the fish with the hot oil as its cooking.
- Cook for about 5 minutes, depending on how thick your fish is.
- Once you see the side in contact with the pan is starting to brown, use two spatulas and carefully flip the fish to fry on the other side.
- Keep cooking until the fish is nicely golden and crispy.
- Remove from the hot oil and place in a paper-lined plate.
- Serve with rice, vegetables, and salsa.
Maricruz Avalos Flores is a Mexican cook and photographer living in Italy where she shares authentic Mexican & Italian recipes that can be easily made at home using easy-to-find ingredients.