I always heard raves about the classic Cuban sandwich, and when I finally had one a few years ago in Florida, at Gloria Estefan’s Bongos at Disney World . . . well, sorry, but I was completely underwhelmed.
Maybe it wasn’t Bongos’ fault. Maybe it was mine. I thought Cuban food was supposed to be exotic and spicy. I had expected an explosion of flavor — a sandwich that tasted wonderful and magnificent and magically different than the rest of the crapwiches I could get anywhere else. And of course . . . it didn’t.
Crusty bread. Sliced pork. Sliced ham. Swiss cheese. Mustard. Pickles. Grilled.
That’s it. No spices, no exotica. Nada.
But, the fault may have been Bongo’s. I’ve seen on cooking shows how Cuban sandwiches are supposed to be made, and my sandwich was neither grilled nor pressed, nor smeared with butter.
So here’s my take on the classic Cuban — not much different, but different enough for this gringo to make me go “Yuuuuuuum.” yeah, it’s a bit of a Dagwood, and it’s wonderful.
• 1/2 loaf French bread; Cuban bread if you’ve got it [1/2 a loaf of French = two big sandwiches, ideal for dinner.]
• 9 slices cooked Virginia Ham
• 2 boneless, cooked & smoked pork chops (prepackaged from Smithfield, nice and not too thick)
• Swiss cheese slices to taste
• Dijon mustard
• Yellow mustard
• Claussen dill pickles, thinly sliced
• Cumin, pinch
• Chili powder, pinch
1. Cut open that bread and get ready to pack it.
2. Smear both types of mustard to taste inside the bread.
3. Place two (probably) pork chops on the bun. More if you need.
4. Sprinkle a good pinch each of chili powder and cumin on the pork chops. To taste, of course.
5. Layer on the sliced ham.
6. Layer on the Swiss cheese.
7. Lay thin pickle slices fully over the whole sandwich.
8. Put the sandwich together. Butter both sides of the crust.
9. Put it in a frying pan over medium heat.
Now, this is what I do to actually cook the sandwich . . . because it has to be pressed. Flattened.
I don’t have any bricks wrapped in tin foil — besides, they wouldn’t be big enough. I cover the sandwich and frying pan with a loose sheet of tin foil. I fill up a stew pot with water, and I place it on top of the sandwich, press down hard and evenly, and I cook the sandwich with the pot on top. This keeps the bread flat and the ingredients get hot and meld together.
Check the bottom of the bread after perhaps four minutes. It’s ready to flip when it’s slightly blackened and hard. (Snap your finger against it.)
Flip it over and cook it the same on this side. When it’s finally flat (check the picture), brown and snappy, take it out of the frying pan and enjoy it immensely.