Recipe: Cuban Sandwich
No one can seem to agree on where and when the Cuban sandwich originated, but most can agree that it’s delicious. This humble sandwich is workingman’s fare for the cigar makers and sugar cane field workers in Cuba, and among the Cuban communities in Florida. Walk down Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, and you’d be hard-pressed to not find a café selling “sandwich mixto” along with little cups of intense Cuban coffees.
An authentic Cuban sandwich is made with Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, and pickles. In Ybor City, Florida, salami is added. If you can’t find Cuban bread, substitute a “crispy on the outside and soft on the inside” white sandwich roll. Do not use a French baguette.
I talked with Ana Sofia Pelaez, author of The Cuban Table, before getting down to business and making my first Cuban sandwich, and I’m so glad I did. While it certainly wasn’t my first time eating this satisfying sandwich, making it at home was uncharted territory.
She told me this: “A great Cuban sandwich has the right balance of citrus marinated pork, sweet ham, and sharp Swiss cheese. The bread should have a delicate eggshell crust and airy interior that gives way under the press. If a little cheese peeks out and crisps on the grill then so much the better. Though it’s tempting to add heat, the only bite should come from thinly sliced pickles and yellow mustard, and please hold the mayo.”
Cuban sandwiches are typically made using a sandwich press, a tool which I don’t own. Thankfully Ana Sofia had a pro tip for getting around this since the press is key in making this iconic sandwich. In place of a sandwich press, she says that after smearing the outside of your bread has a healthy layer of butter (essential for the golden crust), “wrap a large can or brick in aluminum foil or use a heavy, cast iron skillet to apply equal pressure” on the sandwich.
Ellen Silverman, who is also no stranger to Cuban cuisine, suggested a wonderful variation of Cuban sandwich to me, a Media Noche. “The Media Noche, a variation of a Cubano, is my favorite Cuban sandwich. It is made with Pan de Media Noche, a slightly sweet egg-rich bread instead of the traditional Pan de Agua or Cuban bread used for the Cubano. For me, the sweetness of the bread perfectly offsets the ham, pork, pickles, and melted Swiss cheese. A generous amount of mustard makes for perfection.”
– Kelli, May 2015
- 1/3 loaf
Cuban bread (7 to 8 inches), or 1 soft white sandwich or hoagie roll with a crisp crust
- 3 or 4 long slices
- 3 thin slices
roast pork (shoulder or tenderloin)
- 3 thin slices
- 3 thin slices
Softened butter (optional)
Cut the bread in half lengthwise. Spread a thin layer of yellow mustard on the cut sides. To assemble the sandwich, place in the following order on the bottom half of the bread: pickles, roast pork, and then alternating the ham and cheese. Close the sandwich with the top half of the bread.
Coat a skillet, griddle, or sandwich press with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add the sandwich in pan and lightly coat the top of the sandwich with cooking spray or spread it with a little softened butter. Place a heavy weight on top of the sandwich, like a cast iron skillet, to press the sandwich.
Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, 3 to 4 minutes more.