The other day I got a serious jones for a Cubano. Having lived in Florida for a number of years, I used to get them on the regular. Not cookie cutter national chain versions of a Cuban sandwich but real, honest-to-goodness Cubanos made in a small mom-and-pop cafe where there were just as many–if not more–people speaking Spanish as English.
I’ve heard a number of versions of the story of how the Cubano came to be. Some say it was in southern Florida, in and around Miami and the Keys. Others say it was Ybor City, near Tampa. Whichever route it took into popular culture, I can tell you this much: a Cubano is straight-up deliciousness.
A Cuban is a pressed sandwich with ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on Cuban bread*. In the Tampa area, salami is frequently added to the other fillings. In Ybor City, there was a sizable Italian population living side-by-by with the Cuban and Spanish population. Their influence brought about this tasty addition. How can you not like salami?
So, moving on… I wanted a Cuban and I decided to take the work dudes along for the ride. I roasted the pork at home the night before (recipe below) and bought the rest of the ingredients at the store on my way to work. You can buy roast pork, if you prefer. I just happened to have my hands on some excellent pork loin.
The sandwiches were assembled at work in the breakroom and I pressed/grilled them on my induction burner with a skillet and a cast iron grill press from home. (This is the one I have.) I set up an assembly line and gave hot sandwiches to my work homies until I ran out of roast pork. And then I had the last one for myself!
If you have a plancha, panini press or even a George Foreman grill, you’re already good to go. But if you’re using the same method I did and you don’t have a grill press, no worries. You can MacGuyver it. Set something flat and heavy on the sandwiches while they’re getting hot and crisp. A foil wrapped brick. A tea kettle full of water. Another heavy skillet. Basically, you are looking for something heavy with a flat surface to press the sandwich down. For an illustration of the idea, here’s a good post on the kitchn.
First up, the roasted pork.
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
- ¾ cup orange juice
- ½ cup lime juice
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 8 garlic cloves, minced, or equivalent garlic paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- Boneless pork loin
- Whisk all the ingredients together. Pour the marinade into a resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and seal it up after turning the pork around to coat it. Put the bag in a bowl or baking dish and set it all in the refrigerator. Let chill overnight.
- When ready to roast, preheat your oven to 425°F. Place an oven-safe rack on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Take the pork out of the marinade. Discard marinade. Season it all over with salt & pepper. Set it on the rack.
- Roast the pork at 425°F for 30 minutes. It will be lightly browned. Dial back the temp to 375°F and roast until the internal temperature of the pork reads at 160°F or your desired level of doneness, about 1.25 to 1.5 hours.
- Take out of the oven and rest for 30 minutes. If you're going to slice this for sandwiches, refrigerating it will help it to slice more easily.
Also, the recipe calls for pork shoulder. I used loin because I had it on hand and I like it.
Adapted minimally from Roy Choi's Mojo-Marinated Pork Shoulder recipe.
And now… the main event. Let’s assemble and press the sandwiches.
BTW, I know Cuban bread can be tough to find in many areas. I used bolillo rolls, which I can find at several stores here in Topeka. Alternately, you could use something like a soft baguettes or hero/hoagie rolls. Or how about a few slices of challah? There is a version of the Cubano called a medianoche. Same fillings but it served on a roll that isn’t dissimilar to challah. Use what you’ve got available locally. Nothing wrong with putting your own spin on it!
- Thinly sliced roasted pork (see above recipe)
- Thinly sliced boiled ham (or deli ham)
- Thinly sliced Swiss cheese
- Thinly sliced Genoa salami
- Dill pickles
- Yellow mustard
- Cuban bread or your choice or rolls
- Softened butter
- Heat a skillet, griddle or press.
- Butter the cut sides of your rolls and place them on the hot surface to toast until golden brown. Set aside.
- Add ham slices to the hot surface, turning once, until browned in spots. Set aside.
- Brush one or both of the cut sides with yellow mustard. Layer the ham, pork, cheese, salami and pickles on the bread and close up the sandwiches.
- If you're using a plancha or some other kind of lidded sandwich press--think George Foreman grill--butter both sides of the sandwich exterior. Set them on the hot surface. Close that bad boy up and let it do its thing. Let it cook until it is brown and crisp on the outside and the cheese is melty.
- If you're using a skillet or a griddle. butter one side of the sandwich exterior and place in buttered-side down on the hot surface. Place a grill press or something flat & heavy (see my note above) on the sandwich. Let it cook until the bottom is brown and crispy. Remove the grill press, brush some butter on the uncooked side of the sandwich, flip it over and cook it until brown and crisp.
- Whatever method you use, you should wind up with is a flattened, crisp and hot sandwich with melty cheese. Slice it in half and enjoy!
Adapted minimally from Roy Choi's Mojo Pork Cubanos recipe.
*Cuban bread is very similar to a French or Italian bread. Traditionally, they’re baked with a fresh palm front pressed into the top to release moisture. This gives the bread a signature split on top.