I had my first Cuban sandwich in St. Petersburg, Florida a couple of years ago. I had traveled there for a library conference and stayed for a couple of extra days vacation. As I was wandering around one day, I walked past a restaurant that looked less remarkable than a Subway shop, but advertised authentic Cuban sandwiches. So I decided to give it a try, and loved it!
The sandwich looked very much like this one, which I had today for lunch at the Old Havana Sandwich Shop in Durham. Typical ingredients are roasted pork, ham, pickle, mustard and mild white cheese (usually Swiss). The ingredients are pressed together in a thin crusty bread and grilled, panini-style. This one also had a garlic mojo sauce which stuck with me through the rest of the afternoon – but it was totally worth it!
I also roasted a Boston butt pork roast this week. First, I rubbed the pork with salt, pepper, cumin and garlic powder on the outside, and sprinkled it with lime juice. According to the basic directions laid out in Barbara Kafka’s Roasting: A Simple Art, I roasted the pork for 20 minutes at 500 degrees, followed by about another 1 hour 45 minutes at 450, until it was nice a crispy on the outside, and reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
I used some of this roasted pork to make a similar Cuban sandwich called the Media Noche, or “midnight sandwich”. It is made of the same basic ingredients as the traditional Cuban sandwich, except using a soft roll or bun. I just used the roasted pork without adding ham. I don’t have a panini press, but the cookbooks suggested buttering the outside of the bread and using a cast iron skillet to weigh down the sandwich on a baking sheet at 375 degrees. After 15 minutes in the oven, the sandwiches were nicely pressed and crispy on the outside.
There are a lot of other “Cuban” sandwiches, and most seem to have evolved as a way of using leftovers – I guess any meat pressed into a good crispy bread with some melty cheese is going to make a quick and tasty meal. A common variation that I saw in a couple of places was named after a Cuban immigrant who moved to Miami. The Elena Ruz sandwich is made with strawberry jam, cream cheese and turkey breast, also pressed and grilled. That one may have to wait for my next Thanksgiving leftovers!