A good Cuban Sandwich is satisfying, but a great Cuban Sandwich is life-changing. Just watch the movie Chef and convince me otherwise.
Being married to a half-Cuban, I felt the need to perfect this sandwich, which ironically was invented in Tampa, FL as a form of quick sustenance for factory and dock workers. The first version of this sandwich that I fell in love with was at Puerto Sagua, a long-standing Cuban diner in Miami. More recently, the version made by Bodega in St. Petersburg, FL also knocked my socks off.
Guess what? I’ve outdone the both of them.
The first key is to find or bake the right type of bread. I go for a Pan France from a Salvadorian bakery in SF, but there are likely countless other Cuban or South American lard-based rolls that will work just fine. The next key is to slowly cook the pork shoulder in its marinade. Sous vide works wonderfully for this, so that’s my preferred method. Finally, after assembling the sandwich, the pressure of a panini press (or in my case, a brick wrapped in aluminum foil) creates a wonderful density and texture.
(makes 6 sandwiches)
For the Cuban pork
- 2-3 lb pork shoulder roast
- Juice from 3 oranges
- Juice from 6 limes
- 8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 a yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 TBSP dried oregano
- 1 TBSP ground cumin
- 2 TBSP salt
- 4 oz Mexican Coca-Cola
For the sandwich
- 6 fresh Pan Frances Salvadoreños (or other lard-based small French-style rolls)
- 1 7 oz package sliced uncured ham
- 1 12 oz package sliced swiss cheese
- 3 large kosher dill pickles, sliced thinly (I prefer slicing a good quality whole pickle rather than buying the pre-sliced ones)
- Yellow mustard
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and add the hunk of pork shoulder. Marinate overnight if possible, then transfer everything to a large ziplock bag for sous vide cooking. Sometimes I double bag large pieces of meat, but I’ve never had an issue with a bag breaking, even with long cooking times like this.
- Prepare your sous vide water bath at 165 degrees. (I use an Anova Sous Vide Circulator and a Rubbermaid contraption for this). Slowly submerge the ziplock bag full of porky goodness into the water as it warms up. Remove as much air from the bag as possible, then clip into place in a way that still provides water circulation around the meat. Cook for 18 hours and remove.
- Remove the pork shoulder from the bag, scraping off any chunks of onion or garlic that cling to it. Place on a small wire rack on a baking sheet and lightly season with cumin and black pepper. Strain the marinade into a small sauce pan and reduce over medium heat for about 30 minutes.
- Heat oven to 450 degrees and brown the pork shoulder for about 15-20 minutes. It’s already fully cooked, but this gives some nice texture and flavor to the exterior.
- Remove pork from oven once browned, let cool, then shred with your hands. Add to a large bowl and mix in about 1/2 cup of the reduced marinade.
- Now the hard part is over. Assembling the sandwiches is quite simple. Slice your bread, spread mustard over both sides, then add swiss cheese on both sides, then layer pickles and ham on the bottom side only. Finally, add the pork and place the top side of the sandwich down, compressing lightly.
- Heat about 2 TBSP of butter in a skillet or heat up a panini press with cooking spray. Add sandwiches and press down (this is where I use a small brick wrapped in aluminum foil because I don’t have a panini press). Cook for about 3 minutes then flip and cook for about 3 more until nicely compressed and browned on both sides. Slice diagonally and serve.