Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cuban Sandwiches

It seems a little strange to write a recipe for a sandwich, but the classic Cuban sandwich is special. This is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It's not just another sandwich, it's a Cuban sandwich.

To be clear, I'm not Cuban, and I've never been to Cuba, although I did see it in the distance from a ship. So I can't tell you that this is what's served in Cuba, but it's a good representation of Cuban sandwiches in America.

The very first Cuban sandwich I heard about was when I lived in Chicago. My husband told me about the sandwiches that one of his co-workers brought in from a Cuban restaurant, and he was raving about how good they were.

I was a little skeptical I mean, a sandwich is a simple thing. What's the big deal? Later, we went to that restaurant, and I got to eat a sandwich instead of just hear about it. I was hooked.

One interesting thing was that the sandwich was heated and flattened, like panini. But this was long before panini sandwiches got popular. I'd never seen anything like it before. The panini press at the Cuban restaurant looked like the giant presses that commercial laundries use for ironing. They could have pressed a dozen sandwiches at once, no problem.

Later, when were in Miami for a few hours on an airline stopover, we hopped a cab and went to buy some Cuban sandwiches. My husband's work friend had told him that there were a lot of good Cuban sandwich places in Miami because of the large Cuban population there. So we ate some and we brought some home. The cab driver, Jorge, was amused.

Now, I make my own. I base my assembly on the sandwiches I had in Chicago and Miami. For sure that's a small sample of the many versions available, but they were endorsed as being close to authentic by people who knew what they were talking about, including Jorge the amused cab driver.

I dissected those sandwiches, tasted each component separately, and came up with my own formula.

When I'm being really picky about it, I start with pork that has been marinated in Mojo de Ajo (a garlic-citrus marinade) and then roasted. But any time I have left over roasted pork, I think about Cuban sandwiches. The other meat on the sandwich is ham, and I prefer starting with a bone-in ham, but good-quality deli ham works, as well.

Cuban sandwiches are supposed to be made on Cuban bread - two different types are used for slightly different Cuban sandwiches, with one a little sweeter than the other. Both are hard to find, but there are reasonable substitutes. French bread or submarine (hoagie) rolls work. Or if you've got a Mexican bakery nearby, ask for the rolls that are used for tortas. Those are a little wider, but they flatten nicely.

Cuban Sandwiches

French bread or similar rolls
Stone ground brown mustard
Thinly sliced roast pork
Thinly sliced ham
Hamburger dill pickles
Swiss cheese

Start by spreading a thin layer of the mustard on the inside of the bottom half of the roll, and spreading mayonnaise on the inside of the top half. Layer the roast pork on top of the mustard, making a layer several slices thick. Top that with the ham. You want no more than equal parts of ham and pork, or preferably slightly less of the ham.

Next come the pickles. There should be enough pickles so that there's a bit of pickle in each bite. The pickles that are sliced lengthwise rather than in rounds are easier to work with, but either are fine. Place one layer of Swiss cheese on top of the pickles and close the sandwich, making sure everything is neatly tucked inside.

A panini press is perfect for making these sandwiches, but you can achieve the same smashing and warming by cooking the sandwich on the stove in a heavy pan (cast iron frying pan works well) while simultaneously pressing down on it with another heavy pan - like another cast iron frying pan. Or, you can wrap a brick in aluminum foil and use that as your weight. The benefit of the panini press is that it cooks on both sides at the same time. If you're cooking on the stove, you'll need to flip the sandwich over to cook the second side.

Since all of the ingredients are fully cooked before you start, you're just warming the meats, melting the cheese, and crisping (and flattening) the bread.

Refrigerate the leftovers (if there are any), They're good cold, or you can reheat them without the smashing.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a delicious recipe. This is an original Cuban sandwich. By the way I'm Cuban.

Anonymous said...

The Mexican rolls are called bolillos.

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