There is nothing on earth like a fine, handmade Cuban . . .

May 11, 2007 at 7:21 pm

. . . sandwich.  

         A typical Cuban sandwich

Unlike most Latin American cuisine, Cuban food is not intensely spiced but rather it tends to be delicately flavored.  Cuban cuisine is archetypal peasant food meaning it is not complicated by a myriad of cooking techniques and intricate sauces.  Most of the recipes are slow cook numbers and little of it is ever fried.  Sure they share recipes with the other islands in the area like Paella, flan, et al, but for the most part it is uniquely Cubano.

The aforementioned Cuban sandwich, for me, ranks up there with Philadelphia’s cheese steak and New Orleans’ Muffaletta as on of the great sandwiches the world has to offer.  It is so simple it is almost embarrassing.  For the most part the ingredients are very pedestrian: smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, and roast pork on Cuban bread.  Unless you live in New York, Miami, or Tampa the bread may be a little hard to find but you can substitute it with New Orleans style french bread.

The Cuban is a grilled/pressed sandwich and the secret is the roast pork.  Traditionally it is Boston butt marinated in mojo (garlic/citrus marinade) and slow roasted for several hours.  Also, once the sandwich is assembled you then butter the outside of the the bread and place it in a sandwich press until the cheese is melted and heated through.  I first discovered the Cuban at a now gone Cubano food shack in Nashville back in 1998.

Variations on the Cuban include the addition of Genoa salami in certain Tampa neighborhoods and lettuce, tomato, and mayo in the Key West version.  Several places along the Atlantic seaboard substitute Ciabata bread for the Cuban.

 For mine I marinade the butt with a dry rub of Adobe, garlic powder, cardamon, and cinnamon before slow roasting it to an internal temperature of 160.  I purchase my ham and Swiss from the deli at my local grocer making sure to get the very best of each.  French’s mustard and Vlasic dill chips finish off my Cuban.  I use a waffle iron that is also designed for pressing sandwiches to heat them.  But you can use a skillet or griddle and simply place a heavy frying pan (a clean one) or aluminium covered brick on top of the sandwich while it is heating.

 Thoreau strikes again!

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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