One of the most delectable sandwiches on Planet Barbecue is the Cubano (Cuban sandwich or mixto), an ingenious combo of smoke-roasted pork and deli ham on soft bread or rolls, held together with melted Swiss or Gruyère cheese, and accented with the piquant flavors of dill pickles and mustard. Then, the whole shebang is pressed.
While you might assume this classic sandwich was introduced to our shores by Cuban immigrants, it’s more likely it was invented in Florida in the mid- to late-1800s to sate the appetites of workers in the sugar and cigar industries that were then thriving in Ybor City, Key West, and Tampa. (Later, the sandwich caught on in Steven’s hometown of Miami.) Today, the Cubano is well known throughout the country, available in restaurants from Portland, Oregon, to New York City. Run its DNA and you’ll discover a close relative—the medianoche, aka “midnight sandwich.” It’s built just like the Cubano, but on softer, sweeter bread.
In any case, this is a fabuloso sandwich you’ll want to add to your repertoire. Especially with Super Bowl Sunday and March Madness on the horizon.
We’ll tell you below how to make them for a crowd.
As indicated above, you’ll need a few simple ingredients before you build this sandwich: soft-ish bread or rolls, roasted pork, thinly-sliced deli ham (Tampa adds Genoa salami), dill pickles, sliced deli Swiss cheese or Gruyère (Steven’s favorite), and mustard—yellow mustard is traditional, but Dijon works, too.
Bread or rolls: Cuban-style bread, which is made with lard, is preferred, of course. But not available everywhere. Substitute a European-style loaf—Italian bread or Mexican telera bread works—the kind that isn’t too crusty and doesn’t resist pressing. (For a recipe for homemade Cuban bread, check out Steven’s book Miami Spice.)
Pork: Leftover pork loin or shoulder, usually marinated in sour orange juice and spices (see our recipe for Lechon Asado) and smoke-roasted, is traditional. (Boar’s Head even makes an acceptable deli pork.) But pork tenderloin, which cooks in as little as 35 minutes, is great, too. Even leftover pulled pork makes a terrific sandwich.
Ham and Swiss Cheese: A quick detour to the deli counter will take care of these two ingredients; just make sure the ham is on the sweet side and thinly sliced.
Pickles: Whole dill pickles—firm, briny, and cut lengthwise by hand—are our first choice.
Mustard: Cheap yellow mustard—likely in your pantry—is all you need for a moistener. Some people like to combine it with mayo before spreading it on the cut sides of the bread.
HOW TO PRESS
Visit a Cuban restaurant, and your Cubano will be pressed on a hinged device called a plancha. It resembles an old-fashioned waffle iron. Pressing the sandwich improves the texture and eliminates the need to open your mouth unnecessarily wide. Don’t own a plancha? You can press the sandwich using a grill press, a cast iron skillet, or another heavy heat-proof object. (We’ve even heard you can wrap the sandwich in foil, then “iron” it with a clothes iron.) If making sandwiches for a crowd, assemble them, then arrange on a buttered rimmed sheet pan. Place another rimmed sheet pan on top of the sandwiches and weight with a couple of cast iron skillets before placing in a medium oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
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