The CubanoSteven Raichlen
The Cubano may be the best pork sandwich south of the Carolinas. Take it from me: I know—I live in the sixth province of Cuba, which is sometimes known as Miami. The Cubano owes its distinction to a quadruple blast of flavor in the form of garlicky roast pork, smoked ham, pungent Gruyère cheese, and tangy pickles. Curiously, the best Cubano I ever tasted came not from the tropics but from a lively café in wintery Montreal called olive + gourmando. The secret? Two ingenious twists on the Cuban classic: They use cornichons (super-sour tiny French pickles) in place of dill pickles and add some smoky chipotle mayonnaise.
- Total Time: about 10 minutes
- Yield: Makes 2 sandwiches
- Equipment: Your basic kitchen gear including a large (10- to 12-inch) heavy skillet, plus a grill press, contact grill, or second heavy skillet
- 2 pieces Cuban bread or French bread (each 8 inches long), or 2 hoagie rolls
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 to 4 tablespoons Chipotle Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise (recipe follows) or regular mayonnaise
- 3 ounces thinly sliced roast pork
- 3 ounces thinly sliced smoked ham
- 3 ounces thinly sliced Gruyère cheese
- 8 cornichons, thinly sliced, or 8 dill pickle slices
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted or at room temperature
1: Slice the pieces of bread or rolls almost in half through the side, then open them up like a book. Spread one side of the inside of each with 1 tablespoon of mustard. Spread the other side with Chipotle Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise. Arrange the pork, ham, cheese, and pickle slices on top of the mustard and close up the sandwiches. Lightly brush or spread the outside of the sandwiches with half the butter (if cooking in a skillet) or all the butter if using a contact grill.
2: If you are cooking the sandwiches in a skillet: Melt the remaining 1/2 tablespoon (1-1/2 teaspoons) butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the sandwiches and place a grill press or second heavy skillet on top of them. Cook the sandwiches until the bread is browned, crisped, and compressed, the cheese is melted, and the filling is hot, 3 to 6 minutes per side. Reduce the heat as needed to keep the bread from browning too much before the cheese has melted.
If you are cooking the sandwiches on a contact grill: Preheat the grill. When the grill is hot, place the sandwiches in it and cook them until the bread is browned, crisped, and compressed, the cheese is melted, and the filling is hot, 4 to 6 minutes.
3: Cut each sandwich in half sharply on the diagonal and serve at once.
This sandwich is simple, but it does require a bit of advance preparation. You need roast pork, for example, leftovers from the garlicky Porchetta. Of course, a good supermarket or specialty store deli counter will have store-made roast pork on hand for the slicing. For the ham, you can use the traditional cooked smoked ham or, for an offbeat touch, paper-thin slices of a Spanish cured ham like jamón serrano. If you can find aromatic cave-aged Gruyère cheese, your Cubanos will be all the more flavorful. Cuban bread is baguette shaped, but with a softer crust than a French bread: the latter works just fine.