Monday, April 15, 2013

The Sandwich Board ~ The Cuban Sandwich

This has to be one of my favorite sandwiches, EVER. (hmmm... do I say that a lot?) There's something about the combination of savory roast pork, smoked ham, gooey cheese and tart dill pickles that makes my mouth water and my belly do a happy dance, even now as I'm writing about it. Put it all between two slices of buttery grilled bread, with a touch of mustard and mayo and it's simply heaven on a plate.

My love of this delectable sandwich and the recipe that I conjured up, came from the very first Cuban I ever tried while visiting friends in the Tampa Florida area. We took a little drive one lovely sunny March day and ended up in Saint Pete's Beach, at this little restaurant in a strip mall on 34th St North, called Rio's. Our friends had been there before and claimed that they made the best Cuban sandwiches in the area. (their Black Bean Soup was pretty awesome too) I really had nothing to compare it to at the time, but that didn't matter, because it was truly a case of love at first bite.

The Cuban Sandwich
  • Cuban Rolls** or Bread
  • Roast Pork, sliced thinly
  • Ham, sliced thinly
  • Swiss or American Cheese, sliced
  • Dill Pickles, sliced
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Good Quality "Real" Mayonnaise (we are "pro mayo")
  • Butter
You'll need a panini/sandwich press, heavy skillet or griddle pan. You'll also need another heavy pan or a clean brick, wrapped in a couple of layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. If you don't have all/any of those or like me, you're just too lazy or cheap to spring for every cooking gadget known to man, you can improvise and use my "in a pinch" method.***

Pre-heat whatever you're using to cook the sandwich ~ panini press, heavy skillet or griddle pan. I used a heavy skillet for the bottom and set it over a medium-low flame to heat up slowly and evenly. If you're using another heavy pan, the brick wrapped in foil, or my method for the top, you'll need to pre-heat that as well. The foil wrapped brick can be placed in a 400°F oven for about 10 to 12 minutes. ***My "in a pinch" method is a tea kettle that is 2/3 full of water and some aluminum foil. Yeah... that sounds a little weird, but it works. You can see the steps below.

If you have a panini press, then you already know what to do here.

This version starts with a crusty, medium density Italian or Artisan bread, like a Tuscan or Peasant style. I used a local bakery's Tuscan bread. This applies only if you are using a pre-sliced bakery style bread like we are**.

**The traditional Cuban sandwich is made on an authentic Cuban roll, but I've searched high and low and I've never been able to find any here in my region of the Northeast. I've tried standard submarine or hoagie rolls, but they were all too heavy and the crust was too crispy, so in comparison to a soft fluffy Cuban roll, they just didn't cut it. (If you're really ambitious and a stickler for authenticity, I found a recipe for authentic Cuban rolls that looks pretty good, HERE.

I recently found the most delicious deli roast pork loin that I've ever eaten. It's a brand called Columbus and while they have a pretty diverse selection of deli products, they seem to specialize in traditional Italian meats, like Capicolla, Mortadella, Sopresatta, Prosciutto and a plethora of Salami. They're a San Francisco based company and I would assume that their products are available across most of the country, so if you can find them please give them a try. All of their products that we've tried so far have been very high quality and absolutely delicious. They have a retail location finder on their site, as well as a list of the online food suppliers that carry their products, in case you want to have them shipped to you. (Yup. They're that good)

The opinions expressed are my own and I am not being compensated in any way for mentioning them here in my post.

Yes, I do realize that dill pickles come pre-sliced these days, but I only had the whole version on hand, so I sliced them up myself. Slice them as thinly as you can. To be truthful, I found that they're actually more flavorful and less watery than the pre-sliced type, but use whatever you have/prefer.

One of the keys to making a perfect Cuban is to have your deli person slice the roast pork and ham very thinly. (that's actually the key to most good sandwiches, in my book) You don't want it to be "shaved", but I ask the deli person to go just a notch above that on the slicer. I use an "off the bone" style deli ham, simply because I find they tend to be less salty and have a nice, even balance of smokiness and sweetness. If you can't get an off the bone version, I would recommend a Black Forest style for this sandwich.

First, spread a little yellow mustard on one slice of bread...

Start layering one of your meats on this slice. (I use about 4-5 slices, each... remember, they're thin)

Next, comes the American Cheese. Yes, if you don't have Swiss cheese, it really should be a deli sliced true American. (PLEASE, do not use the "singles" that come wrapped in plastic!) Because of it's mild, nutty flavor, it won't overpower the other flavors in the sandwich. Cheddar or any other strong or sharp cheese would compete far too much with the other ingredients. It also melts beautifully.

Also, unlike the deli meats we buy, we have our sandwich cheeses sliced on a medium setting. If there's one thing the hubbers will not tolerate, it's not being able to pull the cheese slices apart without a fight. It's happened before (rarely) and believe me, it makes for a very grumpy hubby. In all fairness, I have to say that I agree.

Then comes your second meat. To us, the order doesn't really matter. I just happened to use the ham first and the pork second.

Add lots and lots of thin dill pickle slices...

Next, spread a little mayo on the top slice of bread... Some say that a true Cuban sandwich would never have mayonnaise on it, but the first one that we ever ate, at that authentic Cuban restaurant in Tampa, had a combination of mayo and the yellow mustard. It could be that it was the owner's preference, but to us, all that mattered was that those sandwiches were like a taste of heaven. You can decide for yourself which you prefer, of course.

Top off the sandwich with your second slice.

Pet peeve... Big air holes in my bread! Grrrr!
Liberally spread room temperature butter on the outside of each slice of bread, or you can brush it with melted butter if you want to.

Place the sandwich in your pre-heated pan and do one of the following:

For the heavy pan or my tea kettle method, get your aluminum foil ready. (I had heavy duty foil, but if all you have is the standard thickness, simply tear off a large piece and fold it in half) If using a brick, it should already be wrapped well in foil before placing it in the oven.

Take the now blazingly hot pan or kettle off the heat, or the super hot brick out of the oven... (remember... don't attempt to remove the brick without oven mitts!)

Place the foil over the top of the sandwich...

Now place the 2/3 full kettle (or heavy pan or hot brick) on top of the sandwich and press down slowly and evenly. Let it sit there for about 4 to 5 minutes. Again, if you are using a panini press, you know what to do here.

Check the top and bottom of the sandwich after about 2 or 3 minutes, to make sure it isn't burning. You really shouldn't need to re-heat the top pan, brick or kettle, unless you're making several sandwiches in batches. My advice if that's the case, is to always have a second heated weight at the ready and just alternate.

When it's a beautiful golden brown, crispy, buttery masterpiece, remove it from the pan, slice it on the diagonal and enjoy! Just a word of caution... Prepare to become addicted to this sandwich. We had it twice last week for dinner. Just sayin'.

Be well, Eat well!


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  1. I worked in a cheese/gourmet food shop a while back. Their version of the Cubano was one of the "special" sandwiches they served when the chef/owner cooked pork. It was so popular, when I went back to visit recently, it had made the regular blackboard.

    1. I can understand how it would become a menu staple, Liza. That job had to be one of the best jobs you could have. How could anyone not love working around all of that luscious cheese? The only downside I can think of is that I probably would have spent half my paycheck buying the merchandise. lol

  2. Oh, I should have known better than to visit before eating breakfast! This would be ideal. And I love that you advocate for "REAL" mayonnaise - absolutely! If you're gonna do it, do it right!!!

    1. You bet, Mary! It has to be Hellman's (or Best Foods, West of the Rockies) or even better... homemade. I don't make my own very often, but I should. It's really not difficult. Guess I'm just too lazy. LOL Uh Oh... Guess I need to add a disclaimer that I can't be held responsible for pre breakfast blog surfing. ;~)

  3. Why, oh WHY is it that I always seem to sit down to the computer and read your posts when I'm stark raving crazy mad with hunger??!?!?!!?!? I have heard of a Cuban, but I have never had one. This looks SO good!!!! I have a sandwich maker here at home, but I rarely pull it out. I am going to have to amend that! This sounds and looks (your pictures area always the hot diggity bomb!) so tasty!!!!!!!! I'm on my way to the grocery store in about 20 minutes, and I have YOU to thank for overspending because you made me so hungry!!! :-)

    Have a great week, Mary!

    1. Thanks, Alycia! LOL Sorry to be the cause of a wee bump up in your grocery shopping budget, but I hope you'll forgive me once you've tasted this sandwich. Be careful though... these lovelies are truly addictive. I go back and forth between praising and cursing that fateful day in St Pete Beach. You have a fantastic week, too! :~)

  4. This looks so delicious! I can see why it is a favourite, it could easily be a favourite of mine too! Sandwiches like this are a true comfort anytime of the day!

    1. Thank you, Joyce! This is definitely a sandwich that eats like comfort food. If you decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear how it turns out!


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