Eric Akis: Cuban sandwich for the win

Eric Akis

The Super Bowl is Sunday and the game is being held just north of Miami. If you plan to watch and want to serve a food popular there, make Cuban sandwiches.

Some describe Cuban sandwiches as the quintessential Miami snack — numerous restaurants, corner snack bars and shops sell them there and in other parts of Florida, such as Tampa Bay.

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In fact, lore suggests the Cuban sandwich didn’t even come from Cuba. It was first served in the historic Tampa Bay neighbourhood of Ybor City, a place where a century or so ago, Cuban immigrants came to work in Florida’s cigar industry.

Cafés that catered to those workers at lunchtime served them what ended up being called a Cuban sandwich, or simply the Cuban or cubano. English speakers gave them that name because it was Cubans they saw eating them.

The Cuban sandwich spread to Miami, also home to a large Cuban immigrant population. To this day, there is a friendly rivalry as to where the sandwich originated and which city makes the best ones.

With the Super Bowl being played near Miami, my focus is on the style made there. When you check out menus of Miami eateries offering Cuban sandwiches, you’ll see many modern variations.

But the sandwich is traditionally prepared with Cuban bread spread with yellow mustard, slices of ham, pickles, roast pork and Swiss cheese — some of those ingredients introduced by European immigrants.

The sandwich is then grilled and pressed. Toasting the bread and compacting the fillings causes their flavours to deliciously meld together.

The roast pork used in the sandwich is often marinated before cooking — in my recipe, I use citrus juice, garlic, onion and seasonings. The ham, pickles, mustard and cheese can be bought at any B.C. supermarket, but not the Cuban bread.

The latter is yeast-risen, white, soft on the inside, light and crispy on the outside and enriched with some fat, such as lard.

Because the bread is not sold here, I decided to make my sandwiches with buns that had similar qualities. They are not exactly the same, of course, which is why I call my recipe “Cuban-style” sandwiches.

If you make the sandwiches, you’ll have to plan ahead, as the pork has to marinate overnight before you roast and slice it for the sandwiches.

The sandwiches can be cooked in a sandwich press, grill pan or even a skillet (see recipe method for details). The recipes yields six sandwiches and, depending on the size of your press, pan or skillet, you’ll likely have to cook and serve them in batches.

The grill pan I used when testing the recipe was large enough to cook three sandwiches at a time. When the first batch was ready, I served them and quickly got the next batch of three cooking on the grill.

Cuban-style Sandwiches

These hot and hearty sandwiches are deliciously filled with slices of succulent marinated roast pork, tangy pickles, Swiss cheese and smoky ham. I like to serve them with potato chips and a cold beverage, such as beer, a rum-based cocktail or grapefruit-flavoured soda.

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus overnight marinade

Cooking time: About 90 minutes

Makes: six sandwiches

1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (see Note)

1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp coarse sea or kosher salt

1/2 to 1 tsp freshly and coarsely ground black pepper

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 (2 lb/950 gram) pork leg or shoulder roast

6 (about 6- to 8-inch long, 3-inch wide) large hot dog, submarine sandwich, hoagie or panini buns, split

• soft butter

• yellow mustard

250 grams thinly sliced deli ham, such as honey or country

6 to 8 baby dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise, or to taste

225 to 250 grams Swiss cheese, thinly sliced

Combine juices, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and onion in a sided dish just large enough to hold the pork. Add the pork and turn to coat. Cover and marinate pork in the refrigerator overnight, turning occasionally.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Set the pork in a small roasting pan or ovenproof skillet and pour marinade over it.

Roast pork 20 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 F and cook pork 55 to 60 minutes more, or until the centre of the meat registers 155 F on a meat thermometer. Baste the pork occasionally with pan juices as it roasts.

When roast is cooked, set on a plate and let rest 30 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board, very thinly slice the meat and set back on the plate the roast rested on. If you’re not making the sandwiches right away, set pork in refrigerator until ready to do so.

To make sandwiches, evenly spread the cut sides of each bun with the mustard. Set bottom buns on a work surface, mustard-side-up. Divide and top each bottom bun with layers of ham, pickles, roast pork and cheese. Set on top buns, mustard-side-down, and press sandwiches together.

Preheat your sandwich press or stovetop grill pan to, or set over, medium heat. When hot, brush the surface of the press or grill with butter. Set on three of the sandwiches, or as many as you can fit on your press or grill.

If using a sandwich press, lower the top of it and firmly press down on the sandwiches. Cook sandwiches until compacted, piping hot in the middle, and browned and crispy on the outside, about 10 minutes.

If using a grill pan to cook the sandwiches, once they are on the grill, set something heavy on them, such as a baking sheet topped with a very heavy skillet and/or some cans of food. Press down on the sandwiches, and then grill five minutes. Turn each sandwich over, top with something heavy again, and cook five minutes on the other side.

Set cooked sandwiches on a cutting board, cut each one in half and serve. Cook and serve the remaining sandwiches as you did the first batch.

Note: Four to five large limes and one to two oranges, depending on size, should yield the juice needed here.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a sandwich press or grill pan, you could also cook the sandwiches in a large skillet or stove top or electric griddle set to, or over, medium heat. If you do, top the sandwiches with something heavy.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Times Colonist Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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