I’ve loved Cuban sandwiches ever since I had a great one on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John at Rhumb Lines (http://www.rhumblinesstjohn.com/). The ideal Cuban has juicy pork, flavorful ham, melty swiss cheese, crunchy pickles, just the right amount of yellow mustard, and mayo, all encased in a soft Cuban bread and then grilled in a sandwich press. There’s a debate between Tampa and Miami as to who “invented” the Cuban. Tampa claims it was the sandwich of choice back in the days of workers hand rolling Cuban cigars. Miami begs to differ. But, whatever the source, it has found its way around the U.S. for good reason. A good one is delicious.
Unfortunately I can’t get to Rhumb Lines often. But Chicago is home to so many great sandwich shops that Sharon and I knew we could find a good substitute here. We visited four spots and discovered two must haves:
Must have # 1: A good Cuban must have good bread – enough structural integrity to stand up to all the components but soft enough to eat without scraping your mouth. Most places use a French banguette. But the best Cuban we tasted came on the best bread – Senor Pan’s (2615 W. North Avenue, http://www.senorpan.com/). Senor Pan ranked #1 in our Cuban tasting. Their bread is made especially for them by Biondillo Baking Company (4900 W. Division St – NOT a retail location.)
Must Have #2: Moist, juicy pork. There is nothing worse than dry pork in a sandwich. I was especially fond of the pork at Cafecito (26 E. Congress Parkway, http://cafecitochicago.com/). It is chopped, not whole, and has a secret marinade which gives it an especially piquant flavor. Cafecito ranked #2 in our Cuban tasting
How hard can it be to make a Cuban sandwich? Not really all that hard, as it turns out. Having loved the bread made by Biondillo's, I convinced them to sell me their minimum order – ten 36” long loaves. (At 6” per sandwich, that works out to 60 Cubans. Fortunately Sharon split the order with me, and we both have enough freezer space to freeze the bread we didn’t immediately need.) I bought 3.5 pounds of pork shoulder from Falatic’s, a family run butcher shop on the Red Arrow Highway in Sawyer, Michigan. (http://www.falatics.com/) Their meat is fantastic! I found a good recipe online from Roy Choi, the chef who gained fame in LA for his Korean taco food truck. I don’t have a panini press so I had to improvise – I used a griddle and a pot lid and pressed down on the sandwich as it heated up, in order to melt the cheese and toast the bread. It was a little tricky to flip the sandwich, since it has lots of layers, but I made it work. The results were delicious.
Here’s the recipe that I used:
Mojo Pork Cubanos
6 oz. thinly sliced boiled ham
Softened butter, for brushing
Six 6-inch-long soft baguettes or heroes, split lengthwise
Yellow mustard, for brushing
¾ lb. thinly sliced Mojo-Marinated Pork Shoulder (recipe follows),
½ lb. thinly sliced Swiss cheese
3 half-sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise
1. heat a large cast-iron griddle or panini press. Add the ham slices to the griddle and cook
over moderate heat, turning once, until browned in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer the ham to a plate.
2. Generously butter the cut sides of each baguette and toast on the griddle over moderate heat until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the baguettes to a work surface and generously brush the cut sides with mustard. Layer the ham, pork, Swiss cheese
and pickles on the baguette and close the sandwiches.
3. Generously brush the outside of the sandwiches with butter and set them on the griddle or press; if using a griddle, top the sandwiches with a large baking sheet and weigh it down with heavy cans or a cast-iron skillet. Cook the sandwiches over moderate heat until they’re browned and crisp on the outside and the cheese is melted, 3 minutes per side on a griddle or 3 minutes total in a press.
Mojo-Marinated Pork Shoulder Serves 6 to 8
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup lightly packed cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest
¾ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup lightly packed mint leaves, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. minced oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin
Kosher salt and pepper
3½ lbs. boneless pork shoulder, in one piece
1. In a bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients except salt, pepper and the pork. Whisk
in 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag and add the pork. Seal the bag and turn to coat; set in a baking dish and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 425° and set a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the pork to a work surface; discard the marinade. fold the pork under itself, into thirds if necessary, and tie with string to form a neat roll. Season all over with salt and pepper and set it on the rack.
3. Roast the pork for 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160°; transfer to a carving board and let rest for 30 minutes. Discard the string before slicing across the grain.
(Both recipes are by Roy Choi.)