A very brief history of the Cubano
The origins of the Cuban sandwich are not entirely known, however its later history can be traced back to the late 1800’s when cigar factory workers would travel from Havana to the Florida Keys and Tampa for work and bring the sandwiches with them for lunch. By 1880, local cafes in Ybor city began offering the sandwich on their menus.
Often imitated, rarely duplicated, the Cuban sandwich(or, “Cubano”) is not a simple undertaking. Before the sandwich is even a possibility, the pork has to first be properly slow roasted, a process which in itself could take up to two days. As to how it’s properly prepared, it depends if you are in Tampa or Miami. At root, the sandwich is always roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on Cuban bread. Then, the outsides are brushed with butter and pressed until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted. In Tampa/Ybor City, they add salami. Now, personally, I hate mustard and pickles; I like my Cubano with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Purists would say this is sacrilege. To me, so is the addition of salami. Also, without proper Cuban bread, it’s just another sandwich.
Variations of the Cuban sandwich
If the Cuban sandwich wasn’t excellent enough as it is, there are two other variations of it: “Media Noche” (midnight sandwich) and the “Croqueta Preparada“(prepared with croquettes, literally). The former is a Cuban sandwich using a sweeter, egg dough bread similar to challah or King’s Hawaiian sub rolls. It is called a Midnight sandwich because it was commonly served late at night at clubs throughout Havana. The latter is is a Cuban sandwich with the addition of ham croquettes, using lettuce, tomato and mayo (and sometimes, potato sticks) instead of pickles and mustard. Both are equally sublime and satisfying substitutes for the Cubano.
It is such a unique sandwich, it has been declared the official sandwich of both Miami and Tampa, who both celebrate its glory in the month of March. So good, that actor/director Jon Favreau directed and starred in the movie “Chef”, whose storyline basically revolves around a Cuban sandwich food truck. (Yes, there’s more to the story than just the sandwich, plus, it’s a great movie so go watch it!) The sandwich is that good. If you have any suggestions on how to prepare the pork differently, let me know!
For the pork:
- 1 head of garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1 medium orange)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 medium limes)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (4- to 4-1/2-pound) boneless pork loin
To make the Sandwich:
- Cuban bread or Ciabatta if you can't find Cuban bread
- Roasted pork
- Sliced Virginia ham or your deli ham of choice
- Swiss cheese slices
- Yellow mustard
- Dill Pickles
Marinating and slow roasting the pork:Make the marinade with the ingredients listed.
- Stab the pork loin with a knife or fork several times and place in a large plastic bag or deep dish with the marinade. Using your fingers or fork, smash some of the garlic into slits made previously in the pork. Allow the pork to marinate overnight.
- Next day, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the pork in your preferred baking dish and cover with foil. Place in oven and cook for an hour at 425. Then lower temperature to 350 and cook for an additional 2-3 hours. Pork is ready when the internal temperature reads 160 degrees.
To make the sandwichPlace slices of ham on the lower half of the bread. Next, shred or slice pork thinly and place on top of ham, then top with a slice or two of swiss cheese and pickles. Put mustard on the top half of the bread, place on the rest of the sandwich. Brush the top of the bread with melted butter and wrap the sandwich in aluminum foil.
- Place in a pan (or panini press) and use something heavy to press the sandwich down, either a cast iron press or a heavy pot/pan. Cook 3-4 minutes per side over medium-high heat until the bread is toasted.
- Slice diagonally and enjoy!