The Cuban food fest of the past weekend yielded some leftovers, by design. See, I really like Cubanos. As sandwiches go, I don’t think you can beat them.
If you don’t already know, a Cubano – the archetypical Cuban sandwich – is a sandwich of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, and sliced pickles between the halves of a Cuban loaf, slathered with mustard. The sandwich is heated and pressed using a device called the plancha, which resembles a panino maker. Unlike the panino maker, the plancha is not grooved and does not leave grill marks. Its heavy plates flatten the bread, compressing the layers of meat and pickle, and melting the Swiss cheese.
Which brings us to Baltimore, 2010. I have leftover roast pork and a jar of house-made dill pickles. To me, that means Cubanos. The origins of the Cubano are open to dispute – no one is really sure whether the sandwich originated in Florida, among the cigar workers in Tampa’s Ybor City and Key West, or in Cuba, but it is clear that the sandwich was popular both on the continent and the island. The Cubano probably first appeared – wherever it appeared – at the beginning of the 20th century, and by the 1960s, it was eaten widely throughout South Florida and cosmopolitan Cuba.
Pickles and mustard lend tang to the sandwich, and the plancha-pressing produces a crisp, brown crust. The melted Swiss cheese holds all the sandwich fillings together. It’s a perfect sandwich. Although a Tampa variant sometimes includes Genoa salami – a tangy, garlicky sausage – most versions of the sandwich do not. Lettuce, tomato, and condiments besides mustard (such like mayonnaise) generally are considered inauthentic.
If you can find Cuban bread, use it. It’s not easy to come by outside Central and South Florida. If, like me, you live in the Land Without Cubans, use a baguette, preferably not a really good one, You want something supermarkety, not as crisp-crusty as a baguette really should be, and split down the length of the top, if you can find that. Sadly, I don’t have a panino maker or a plancha, so I use a grill press (a flat plate of stainless steel with a wooden handle). It’s not quite as effective, but it comes close. And I only had good baguettes. Whatever, it’s still a delicious, crusty sandwich.
Yellow mustard is traditional, but I prefer the mellower bite of a green peppercorn Dijon mustard. The pickled red onion also is atypical, but I had them, and I used them.
One loaf Cuban bread, or a baguette
1/4 lb thinly sliced ham – a glazed, Virginia, or maple ham is good
1/4 lb thinly sliced roast pork
2 dill pickles, thinly sliced
Optional: pickled red onions, from recipe
4-6 slices Swiss cheese (depending on size of baguette)
Slice the Cuban loaf or the baguette lengthwise. Spread the mustard on the cut sides of the bread and layer the fillings within the loaf. Replace the top and press down.
Place the sandwich in a heated plancha or panino press (with a flat plate), on a hot flat top, or in a heated dry skillet. Lower the top of the plancha or panino press, or place a heavy weight (such as a foil-wrapped brick or another skillet) over the sandwich. Press hard. If heating on a flat top or in a skillet, flip over the sandwich and repeat. When golden and crisp, remove the sandwich from heat and slice.