A traditional Cuban sandwich (or Cubano), which most likely did not originate in Cuba, is made of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard (and/or mayo, depending on where you’re ordering), pressed between soft, buttered, French-style bread. The simple ingredient list, however, belies the complex end product. Once all of the ingredients meld together: the sweet, smoky, roast-y, briny, and nutty flavors create a Salsa dance party in your mouth.
At El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain, they make their traditional Cuban sandwich with warm meats that melt the cheese, and lightly press it leaving the bread soft and chewy. The Specialty Cuban goes beyond the traditional with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and mayo. The pork is roasted to perfection in their own special marinade, and the ham is simultaneously sweet and smoky. This version is probably the closest to what you’d find at a deli in South Florida. If you’re looking for a jazzier version, a la the former Chez Henri favorite, you’ll want to hit up The Automatic in Cambridge for their resurrection of the Chez Henri Cuban. But if you want a true sense of sandwich satisfaction, make your own using all high-quality, local ingredients. Here’s how:
Start with the meat.
The meat is the cornerstone of a good Cubano. A combination of ham and roast pork is the most traditional choice, but occasionally you’ll find salami as well. Since meat is the star ingredient, it’s best to start with true quality. Stillman Quality Meats in Hardwick, MA, sells pasture-raised pork and ham that is well worth the premium charge over your standard deli fare. If you want to make your Cubano right now, you’ll have to settle for the deli. If you want to make your Cubano tomorrow, you can try this mouthwatering recipe for slow-roasted pork from the food nerds at Serious Eats. But if you’re like me and you want to start with fresh pork but eat your sandwich today, try pressure cooking. Simply put your 2-pound pork roast into the pressure cooker with 3/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup lime juice, 3 crushed garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper. Pressure cook on high for 25 minutes, then allow 10 minutes of natural release before removing from pressure cooker. Let the roast rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Use soft bread.
A soft, white, French-style loaf is commonly used for a Cuban sandwich, but when you’re going for serious local quality, the soft and thin ciabatta from Clear Flour Bread in Brookline is a great choice. It presses to perfection and crisps just enough on the outside without becoming so hard it scrapes up the roof of your mouth. Plus, its little nooks and crannies are perfect for collecting flavorful pockets of mustard and melty cheese.
Choose Alpine cheese.
Swiss cheese is the only cheese you’ll ever find on a Cubano, but it’s tough to find locally made Swiss cheese. The flavor of Swiss is highly based on terroir and tradition, but Spring Brook Farm in Reading, VT is making an Alpine cheese with all the desired qualities of a true Swiss. It’s called Tarentaise, and you can find it at Whole Foods and specialty cheese shops.
Top to your liking.
Yellow mustard and dill pickles round out the most traditional of Cubano toppings. Grab Grillo’s dill pickles, of course. Beyond that, choose the yellow mustard of your liking, add tomatoes, onion and mayo if you like. Lettuce is another occasional addition to a deli Cubano, but if you’re pressing your sandwich the warm lettuce could become a detractor.
Build it right, then butter, and press.
The way you assemble a pressed sandwich matters for the final result. Start by spreading mustard (and mayo, if using) on the insides of the bread – both sides. Add a slice of cheese to each side so it melts readily, then top one side with the ham and the other with the roast pork. Add your pickles and other desired toppings in the middle, then close the sandwich and give it a firm press with your hand. Butter the outsides of the bread, and use a panini press, if you have one, or a flat griddle or cast-iron skillet, and weigh the sandwich down with weights or a large can. Don’t walk away because a weighted sandwich tends to brown faster than you’d expect, and you don’t want an overly toasted exterior. Enjoy warm!
Makes 4 sandwiches
- 2 12-inch loaves soft ciabatta bread, halved crosswise and lengthwise
- Yellow mustard
- Mayonnaise (optional)
- 1 pound thinly sliced roast pork
- 1 pound thickly sliced ham
- 8 ounces Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dill pickle slices
- Unsalted butter, softened
- Follow the sandwich-building instructions above, dividing the ingredients evenly among the 4 sandwiches.
- Spread softened butter on the outsides of the bread, or heat some butter in your non-stick skillet over medium heat.
- Place your sandwich(es) on the griddle and weigh down with panini weights or a large can. Cook until cheese is melted and bread is just golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Let sit for a couple of minutes before cutting each sandwich in half and serving.