What is a Cuban Sandwich?
A Cuban sandwich or “Cubano” is a sandwich that starts with Cuban bread, mustard and 3 pickles. In between the bread is pork (Lechon), ham, and swiss. THAT’S IT – NOTHING ELSE!
As I was preparing to write this blog post to share my favorite part about making Lechon which is making Cuban sandwiches, the next day, of course. I stumbled upon the great debate of the Cuban sandwich. Salami or no salami? Suppose you ask my Cuban husband or anyone in his family. In that case, it is a firm no salami, followed by, “Conyo, who puts salami on a Cubano?”
Apparently, people from Tampa add genoa salami to their Cuban sandwiches and even claim that that is the original way. In contrast, people in Miami say no salami, and their way is the original way.
So, I decided to dig deep. It was conceived 500 years ago the Taino tribe in Cuba made the very first version of a Cuban sandwich. It consisted of fish and birds between 2 slices of crunchy casabe. Casabe was more of a cracker-like consistency when compared to bread. Fish and birds were used because pork did not become available until the Europeans (mostly Spaniards) settled. The Europeans brought pork with them. They also brought a doughy substance with them that resembled bread instead of a cracker.
Fast-forward to the 1800’s when the Cuban tobacco industry started developing in Florida. Cubans were able to sail back and forth from Cuba to Miami frequently, either for employment or to visit. Historian Loy Glen Westfall claims that the sandwich was “born in Cuba and educated in Key West. The cigar industry started in Key West then moved north to Tampa, specifically Ybor city. Cigar manufacturers’ workers were composed of Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants. These workers needed a quick and affordable lunch. So, the “mixto” was born then, and today we know it as a Cuban sandwich or “Cubano.”
What is on a Cuban Sandwich?
A Cuban sandwich starts with Cuban bread. It has a light, flaky crust on the outside and an incredibly soft, airy texture inside. It is tough to find “true” Cuban bread unless you live in Florida or Cuba. The bread is cut and then spread with yellow mustard, and 3 pickles are added. Next, layer roasted pork (lechon), ham, and swiss cheese and cover with the top piece of bread. Spread a little melted butter or olive oil on the top portion of bread and press on a hot grill (plancha) or pan. After it has been pressed, take off the grill, cut diagonally, and serve with a refreshing Cuban soda such as Iron Beer or Materva.
Now, here’s the part that causes great debate. In Tampa, they add salami and claim that theirs is the original. However, I’m probably going to make people very upset in Tampa and say that I have never had a Cuban sandwich with salami and do not want a Cuban sandwich with salami. There are even versions with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato… WHAT??? Now I know recipes have different interpretations and people like to “elevate” food and make it their own. I’m ok with that, and I do that too. But, when you add ingredients or take away ingredients from a Cuban sandwich, you can’t call it a Cuban sandwich anymore. You have to call it an “inspired Cuban” sandwich.
With all of this said, I hope you enjoy this simple recipe for a Cuban sandwich. It is my favorite part when making Lechon, the leftovers to make a Cubano the next day. I will admit I do not have access to real Cuban bread, so I had to use the best substitute I could find at my local bakery.
While preparing for this blog post, I found out that National Cuban Sandwich Day is August 23. Like, I need another reason to eat a Cuban sandwich…
Sharing is Caring, below is a Pinterest friendly photo…
Preheat a griddle or a sandwich press to 325 degrees. Cut bread lenghthwise in half. Spread mustard on each piece of bread. Put 3 pickles on bottom layer of sliced bread.
Next, add a layer of pork, then ham and last the swiss cheese. Cover with top piece of bread.
Brush the bread with butter or olive oil and put on the grill and press. If you don't have a press then another heavy pan could be used too. After about 5 minutes and the sandwich is pressed remove and cut diagonally.