The Cubano: Miami vice

I have a thing about sandwiches.

I mean, I’ve always been fascinated by the bread-filling-bread dynamic, the happy marriage of stuffing and stuff-ee. What could be tastier than peanut butter and honey on oatmeal bread? Salty-nutty PB, sweet honey, nutty-sweet bread—see how they balance one another?

And then there’s ham and Swiss on light rye: a whiff of caraway blending with the slight smokiness of the ham, the barely-there nuttiness of the cheese…

Did you know that ham-and-cheese is America’s #1 sandwich? The plain white loaf is the most popular sandwich bread. For you anglophiles, cheese is the #1 sandwich filling in England. But for me, the #1 sandwich is ANYTHING between the halves of a crusty roll.

There’s Italian pan bagna, aromatic anchovies, olives, peppers, onions, tomatoes, piled atop garlic oil-brushed ciabatta. And its French cousin pan bagnat: similar, but substituting grilled tuna for the anchovies. And then there’s the (choose your regional preference) hoagie, grinder, submarine, Italian, hero, wedge, torpedo, zeppelin, or muffaletta, all variations on the crusty long roll/meat-cheese-veggie theme.

And my new best friend: the Cuban sandwich, a crusty roll layered with ham, Swiss, roast pork, and dill pickle slices, then flattened/grilled. They’re a specialty of Miami street vendors, as well as a mainstay of Cuban restaurants across the country.

As it turns out, the Cuban sandwich is ideal for a car trip. You know how you go to eat a sandwich with one hand on the wheel, and the filling falls out in your lap, and you’re trying to pay attention to the road while you’re desperately attempting to keep olive oil stains off your clothes? The Cuban sandwich, grilled and then chilled, is virtually crumb-less, let alone a lap hazard. Enjoy with impunity: the melted, cooled cheese cements everything in place. And if you’re not traveling, but enjoying one of these straight off the grill—ah, then you’re in sandwich nirvana, truly.

When I made Cuban sandwiches last week to share with my officemates, they met with universal approval. One Webbie even said it was the best sandwich he’d ever had. Fair praise indeed from a man whose wife is a passionate baker of sourdough rye (which is the perfect vehicle for liverwurst and onions and sweet-hot mustard, in case you didn’t know). If you’re a sandwich fan looking to branch out, give this Miami specialty a try.

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As usual, we’ll start with the bread. All of the ingredients go into the mixer bowl.

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Mix to make a shaggy dough.

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Then knead till soft and smooth and a tiny bit sticky.

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Put in a greased bowl or, for easiest tracking, an 8-cup measure. Which, YES, we’re finally selling!

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The dough will nearly double in about an hour.

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Gently deflate it, and cut it into six pieces.

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Shape the pieces into rough logs, and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This rest relaxes the gluten, making the rolls much easier to shape.

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Shape the logs into long sandwich rolls. Notice I’m not the best shaper in the world. Understand that any shaping imperfections will disappear once you stuff these babies and slap ’em on the griddle. Cover the rolls, and let them rise for an hour or so, while you get the filling ready.

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You can marinate a pork tenderloin and roast it. Or grill boneless chops on the barbecue. Or, as I’m doing here, sauté boneless ribs till they’re barely cooked through, still nice and juicy and barely pink in the center.

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Once they’ve cooled, cut in slices.

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Prepare your pickle slices. I use a couple of those big pickle-barrel pickles, as they make nice long slices.

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The rolls are risen, ready to pop into the oven. Spray them with water; this helps give them a light, slightly crunchy crust.

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Using a sharp knife, slash each one right down the center. Work quickly; don’t fuss. Once you slash, you want these in the oven fast, so they don’t deflate.

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Bake the rolls till they’re golden brown. Let them cool before moving on to the next step.

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Split each roll lengthwise, and brush with olive oil.

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Layer on thin-sliced Swiss cheese, and a long dill pickle slice.

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Add a piece of ham; two pieces, if one piece won’t stretch from end to end. Lay the roast pork slices atop the ham.

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Top with more cheese. This is the glue that will hold the sandwich together.

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Good enough to eat. But wait—there’s more!

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Turn the sandwiches over, and brush their bottoms with olive oil (or melted butter). The TRUE Pan Cubano is quite greasy; go there at your own risk.

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Put the sandwiches on a griddle heated to about 325°F. Can you do these in a panini grill? Sure. The crosshatch markings aren’t traditional, but who’ll ever know (unless you’re in Miami)? You can also make these in a waffle iron using the flat plates (if your waffle iron comes with flat plates).

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Brush the top of each sandwich with more oil or melted butter. Or not; your choice.

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Now comes the fun part. Lay a piece of foil atop the sandwiches, and place a cookie sheet over the foil. Weigh the sheet down; you want to press these sandwiches as they cook. I’ve used jars of water here. Maybe you have a couple of bricks lying around?

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After several minutes, enough time for the cheese to start melting and the crust to begin to crisp, turn the sandwiches over. Put the weights on again, and cook till the cheese is very melty and the sandwiches are heated through.

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They’ll look like this. Are you beginning to understand why I find these so compelling?

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To serve, slice sandwiches on the diagonal.

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Enjoy hot off the griddle. Or let cool, refrigerate, and bring with you on your road trip. Surprisingly, these are nearly as good cold as piping hot, so you’re really not sacrificing a lot by chilling them.

Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Cuban Sandwich.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Cuban sandwich, made with ham, Swiss, roast pork, and pickles:

Cubanita’s, “Milwaukee’s finest Cuban restaurant”: $7.50

Little Havana, North Miami: $6.49

Liborio Cuban Restaurant, New Orleans: $8.95

Bake at home: Cuban sandwich, made with ham, Swiss, roast pork, and pickles: $3.12

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Anne

    Oooh…aaaahhh. We had a pork tenderloin the other night, and Cuban sandwiches are the perfect way to feast on the leftovers, so we had them the next night for supper. You can also wrap the individual sandwiches in foil. Pre-heat two iron skillets in the oven to about 450. Place the wrapped sandwiches in one skillet, weight it down with the other one, and slide the whole thing back into the oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese is toasty-melty. Unwrap and eat hot or let them cool down for that road trip.

    Oh, great idea, Anne – thanks! – PJH

    Reply
  2. April Jaehn

    Drool…you had me at the oogy gooey photo with the cheese oozing out of the bread. I kept asking the computer if I could have a bite: ) Off to make a tenderloin!

    Reply
  3. Bridget

    Oh, I LOVE Cuban sandwishes!!! We tried them once as quesadillas on the grill….very good, but a little tricky to flip! :) On this homemade bread, they look even more delicious!

    Reply
  4. jan@pastrychefbyfire.com

    As some who lives in Miami and is cuban by marriage, I can say that this sandwich looks pretty legit. I love the idea of slicing the pickles lengthwise — it makes the sandwich easier to eat.

    When making the sandwiches, make sure that the cheese and meats are at room temp — it helps the cheese melt faster. That way you don’t burn the bread.

    Personally, I like my cubanos piping hot. Most places serve them hot now a days. I also like yellow mustard on mine — that is not traditional but it is good.

    Reply
  5. Sandy

    After having lived in FL for 17 years before moving to NC, I came to adore Cuban Sandwiches. I sorely miss them and not having them available to buy. I have a wonderful recipe from an authentic cookbook and make my own, even when we lived in FL. I make them here whenever we have friends coming from FL and they bring me Cuban bread. I use deli meats of roast pork, ham, salami, swiss cheese, slice the pickles exactly the same as you did, yellow mustard and mayo. I bake them in the oven on a baking sheet with another on top and then place 2 large paver bricks wrapped in aluminum foil on top. This compresses the sandwiches perfectly, just like the ones in the restaurants in FL. I need to try your recipe for Cuban bread. It is such a unique bread and a Cuban sandwich is not the same unless it is on Cuban bread.

    Sandy, try making the bread with lard—it does make a difference, but I hate to call for it as so many people seem unable to find it in the grocery store… – PJH

    Reply
  6. Sue E. Conrad

    Hi, P.J.!

    Well, we’ve made it to VT from FL. Right now we’re in Ira (outside of Rutland) visiting our oldest daughter, son-in-law, and two of our six grandkids! This daughter is a professional baker with a BIG kitchen, so she whipped up a batch of Cuban bread; however, no one had fresh lard, so we had to make do with the stuff in the box……but it DID taste just like the bread we can get in FL. Will be making another batch to take to our youngest daughter’s house where we “pig out” on the full-blown Cuban meal! Just the finishing touch we’ve been missing!!

    Will be making our annual pilgrimage to King Arthur one day during the first two weeks of August, accompanied by our second daughter and son-in-law who have never had the pleasure of visiting the “shrine of baking”!

    Thanks again for the Pan Cubano!!

    Neat – glad you tried the lard version and it was what you’d hoped for. Enjoy those sandwiches! As we “speak,” our store is undergoing a major renovation – new flooring, new layout, etc. We’ll be closed tomorrow, then will be a week or so getting up to speed, but by the time you arrive, the “new shrine” should be awesome! Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  7. Kari

    Funny, today I just got finished making sandwich rolls (make your fav sandwich bread dough, pat it out into individual rectangles, layer your fav sandwich ingredients, roll it like a cinnamon roll and pinch the ends together) and here was this blog post! Inspiration has struck and I know what I’m making with whatever leftover pork might roll my way. Don’t see why I couldn’t grill/flatten the sandwich bun later on…

    Reply
  8. Christine

    Does that colorful jar of water happen to be a cleaned pickle jar from Trader Joe’s? I work there–I’d hope I could recognize it. =]

    Yes, the jar is from Trader Joe’s! Great eyes!

    Happy Baking!

    MaryJane @ The Baker’s Hotline

    But, it’s not pickles – it’s your TJ’s chunky applesauce. Yes, you’ve definitely got sharp eyes! Love your stores, by the way – wish we had some up here by us, I have to travel 3 hours to get to one (which I do regularly). – PJH

    Reply
  9. Sara

    Oh my gosh…. I am definitely making these later this week. Thank you so much for this recipe! I’ve always wanted to try a Cubano. I am now off to see if I can order one of your 8 cup measuring cups. I have wanted one since Mary introduced me to your blog. Hope you ship to Canada!

    Reply
  10. Sandy

    I can buy some fairly authentic lard here in NC but for ease will try using the grocery store lard.
    I also saw the comment about you closing tomorrow. OH NO! My sister, who lives in Iowa, is heading your way and plans to stop at your store this coming weekend. Will you be open? She loves, loves, loves King Arthur stuff and orders it online. I gave her a gift certificate for her birthday this year and she is so eagerly looking forward to her pilgrimmage to your store. Will you be open? She would be absolutely crushed if you were not. This was going to be the highlight of her vacation.

    Never fear, we’re open today – we were just closed for about 24 hours while we had new flooring installed. Your sister will love it – we’ll be al spiffed up by the time she gets here! – PJH

    Reply
  11. Sandy

    Thanks….I just sent her an email letting her know y’all will be ready and waiting for her! I can’t tell you how excited she is to be coming to your store!

    Reply
  12. Susan

    Next time try adding some crumbled chorizo on top of your last layer (cheese) on your Cuban sandwich. That’s how I grew up eating them.

    Reply
  13. Adam

    ahh, love cubanos.. yum

    i was surprised not to see mustard in the recipe, then i saw the comment that mustard’s not traditional, didn’t know that

    personally i gotta have the mustard, it’s the mustard and pickles that really make it for me :)

    Reply
  14. Karen

    Mmmmm. Good stuff. Made these this past weekend. The bread was very tasty and a lot of fun to make. I’m always amazed that such bland ingredients can come together in wonderful ways. I kept the sandwiches “authentic” and served them with dipping sauces, which went over really well. I love the recipes on this site — every one I’ve tried has become a keeper.

    Reply
  15. David L. Greer

    I just discovered this Cuban bread recipe and the photos convinced me to try it as a replacement for french baguette po’ boy sandwiches I crave from years living in the New Orleans area…plus, likely good for garlic-butter bread w/pasta..

    Reply
  16. May Pedersen

    Now that you have posted Cuban sandwich, would/could you post Asian-style filled sweet bread? This type of bread is very popular in Asia. There is Bread Talk in Singapore with all sorts of delectable fillings. If you google in Bread Talk Singapore or search in YouTube you will find them. Asian bakeries in North America also carry these types of buns. Thanks.

    Hi Mary,
    Thanks for the suggestions. We are always looking for new and different things to share with our fellow bakers. Happy Baking! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  17. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - Petrópolis, R.J. - BRAZIL

    I´d made a sandwich with this fantastic bread. It turns one of my favorites in years. Nice crust, nice tastes and ohhhh!!!, give you a TRY, i recommend, fabulous in all the ways!!!!!!

    Reply
  18. gregoryfraley

    i tried these. Not enough rise. I think that my length was too long. How long do you suggest? I needed for about 7 minutes.

    After final shaping, the little loaves will be about 8″ long. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  19. phil22

    We’re Tampa FL transports to Albuquerue NM and really miss the Columbia Resturant’s Cuban and 1905 salad. I just started to learn to bake, specifically to make Cuban Bread. I’ve tried 2 different bread recipes, gotten from the Internet, and even ended up buying a KitchenAide 6 Qt Pro mixer thinking I wasn’t kneading properly. The problem; loaves come out too flat. The dough batch seems to rise properly but when divided into loaves they never rise up enough. The flavor was always good just something wrong. My neighbor said to use King Arthur flour so I bought a bag of the Bread mix. Much better rise but not perfect, yet. Your recipe here had slightly different amounts and used the General Purpose flour, that’ll be my next attempt. By the way, the Columbia’s recipe for a Cuban pays particular attention to the order of the ingrdients; ham, pork, salami, swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard on the top. Then use a sandwich press and your off to the races. Oh yes, don’t forget the fried plantians in olive oil.
    Don’t hesitate to call our bakers if you have any questions while you’re making the recipe. 1-800-827-6836, we’ll be happy to help you along. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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