The Cuban Sandwich originated as a street cart food item that was marketed in Cuban industrial areas. The influx of Cuban refugees back in the 1960's brought the Cuban Sandwich to Tampa and Miami. The Cuban Sandwich eventually became a household name in Florida and nearly every convenience store in the entire state installed a flat top grill to meet consumer demand.
The original Cuban Sandwich is made with slow roasted pork and onions, ham, pickles and swiss cheese. Many old Cubans say that ham was not part of the original Cuban Sandwich. Others say that cheap canned lunch meats, like pork loaf, was what the original Cuban Sandwich was made out of.
The truth is that all street vendor food has a bit of dubious mystery involved, because street vendors are notorious for marketing whatever food items that they can procure for the lowest price. This is especially true in places that suffer from economic turmoil. More than likely the first bunch of Cuban Sandwiches were made with whatever the street cart food vendor had on hand. Cuba is famous for great roasted pork, so pork obviously gets the nod for being the original Cuban Sandwich meat.
Simple Cuban style slow roasted pork is the key to making a great Cuban sandwich! A whole pork shoulder or pork butt roast is placed on a bed of sliced onion and garlic cloves, then it is smothered with sliced onion. The pork's is seasoned and flavored with a generous amount of cumin. The pork is slow roasted at a moderately low temperature till the meat is well beyond being fully cooked, so the meat literally is tender enough to melt in the mouth. The slow roasted caramelized onions in the pan are almost always served with the sliced roast pork, even when making a Cuban Sandwich.
The second necessity for making a good Cuban Sandwich is Cuban Bread. Cuban Bread can be found in Cuban food markets and Florida grocery stores. Mexican Bolillo and Hoagie Rolls are made with a similar dough and these breads are a good substitute.
Cuban Bread has a thin crust and fairly soft pith, because the dough is enriched with milk. Cuban Bread is easy to make. Just like French Baguette, there is no butter, lard or oil in the recipe. To make Cuban Bread, simple replace some of the water in a French Baguette recipe with milk and use high gluten bread flour.
The third item that is needed is a Cuban Sandwich Griddle or a Panini Grill. The whole sandwich is placed on the griddle with no butter, then the top half of the griddle is closed, so the weight of the griddle lid flattens the sandwich. After grilling, the flattened bread turns into a hot crispy crust.
The original Cuban street cart food vendors and old time Cuban restaurants simply use an ordinary cast iron griddle to make Cuban Sandwiches. An aluminum foil wrapped brick is used to press the sandwich flat. When using the brick method, the sandwich will need to be flipped, so both sides are grilled crisp. The griddle temperature should be about 275ºF to 300ºF, so the bread is not toasted too dark.
Cuban Style Roast Pork For Cuban Sandwiches:
This recipe yield about 20 ounces of roast pork.
It is better to slow roast a large piece of pork than a small one.
Step 1: Select a 24 ounce piece of Pork Butt or Pork Shoulder. Only trim off some of the fat if the fat cap is extra thick.
Step 2: Place 1 1/2 cups of thin sliced onion on a roasting pan.
Place 4 to 6 whole garlic cloves on the onions.
Place the pork roast on the onions with the fat side facing up.
Cover the pork roast with a thin layer of sliced onion. (About 1 cup.)
Step 3: Drizzle 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over the pork and onions.
Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon of cumin over the onions and pork.
Step 4: Slow roast the pork in a 275ºF degree oven, till the pork is fully cooked and the onions are thoroughly caramelized.
Step 5: Allow the roast pork to rest and cool.
Thin slice the roast pork. (About 4 to 5 ounces of sliced roast pork are needed per sandwich.)
Save the caramelized onions and garlic.
This recipe yields 1 sandwich.
Step 1: Cut an 8" long piece of Cuban Bread.
Split the bread in half.
Step 2: Place a few thin slices of swiss cheese on both halves of the bread. (About 1 1/2 ounces.)
Place about 2 ounces of thin sliced smoked ham on the cheese.
Place 4 ounces of the Cuban Style Roast Pork on the sandwich.
Place about 1 or 2 tablespoons of the caramelized onions and garlic from the roast pork on the sandwich.
Place a few dill pickle chips on the sandwich. (optional)
Place the two sandwich halves together.
Step 3: *Either Cuban Sandwich Griddle, a Panini Grill or a regular cast iron griddle with an aluminum foil wrapped brick can be used to make a Cuban Sandwich.
Heat the griddle between 275ºF and 300ºF. Do not brush the griddle with butter or oil.
Place the Cuban Sandwich on the griddle.
Lower the griddle lid and apply pressure to flatten the sandwich.
Grill the sandwich till the flattened bread is toasted crisp.
*For a regular cast iron griddle, place an aluminum foil wrapped brick on top of the sandwich to flatten it. Flip the sandwich so both sides are toasted crisp.
Step 4: Place the sandwich on a cutting board and cut it in half.
Place the sandwich halves on a plate.
Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig and a dill pickle.
*Serve with a cool refreshing Guanabana con Leche or a bottle of Malta.
I used to work with several good Cuban chefs in Florida restaurants and this is how they made Cuban Sandwiches for a lunch special du jour. The aroma of the slow roasted pork and caramelized onions on a Cuban Sandwich is mouth watering!