Dish of the week: The Cuban Sandwich

cubansandwich_grilled1When it come to classic sandwiches, the pressed Cuban sandwich is easily one of the best. Made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on crusty Cuban bread, the sandwich is a staple in Southern Florida.

That’s because (according to some), though the sandwich may have been born in Cuba, it was raised in the States. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cubans frequently traveled back and forth between their country and neighboring South Florida. The primitive form of the sandwich is said to have been developed as a lunch for cigar factory workers in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and later, Key West in the 1860s. In the 1880s, the cigar industry shifted to Ybor City, a culturally diverse neighborhood of Tampa. There, the Cuban, Spanish and Italian influences of the neighborhood morphed the lunch staple into the Cuban sandwich as we know it today. In Tampa, you may even find Genoa salami layered in.

The sandwich is assembled on lightly buttered Cuban bread, then toasted in a sandwich press called a plancha (similar to a panini press but without the ridges). In its best form, it’s layered with mojo-marinated roast pork and good-quality ham.

This recipe begins with boneless pork shoulder that is marinated in a mix of oregano, cumin, garlic, and soured orange juice before being slow-roasted until it’s incredibly luscious and tender.

Cuban Sandwich yields 4 sandwiches, plus extra pork

For the roast pork:
4 lb boneless pork shoulder
8 cloves garlic
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried red chili flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 lime, juiced
4 bay leaves

For the sandwich:
1 long Cuban loaf or 4 Cuban rolls
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, or more for spreading
8 thin slices Swiss cheese
8 thin slices good-quality deli ham
8 thin-medium slices roast pork (ingredients above)
Thin dill pickles or bread and butter pickle slices
Butter, at room temperature


For the roast pork:

Cut small slits all over the meat and use twine to tie together in 3 or 4 places (this is so the pork holds its shape as it cooks). In a food processor, mix the garlic, cumin, oregano, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Pulse in a bit of the orange juice to make a paste and rub all over the meat and into the slits. Place pork into a large sealable plastic bag or container and pour over remaining juices. Add in bay leaf, then seal and refrigerate 3 to 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pork skin-side up in a roasting pan and cook until internal temperature reaches 160 to 170 degrees, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Let cool before slicing.

For the sandwich:

Split the bread in half lengthwise, leaving the inner edge intact. Spread mustard onto one of both sides of the bread, then layer on half the cheese, then the ham, pork, and pickles, followed by the remaining cheese. Close to form a sandwich. If using 1 long loaf, cut into 4 sandwiches.

Preheat flat-topped panini grill, buttering each side of the press. Alternatively, you can butter both sides of the sandwich and use a frying plan and the back of another pan as a press. Place the sandwiches inside the grill and press down, grilling until bread is flattened and golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes.

Serve hot with more pickles.

By Brooke Viggiano, Mar. 31 2014

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