The ingredients—glazed ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, crunchy pickles, tangy mustard—are enough to tempt anyone to the nearest deli. But layered on Cuban bread (a baguette-like style), brushed with butter or olive oil and grilled in a plancha, or ungrooved sandwich press, the Cuban sandwich with its juicy, melded components is irresistible to longtime connoisseurs and brand new converts alike.
What is a Cuban Sandwich?
Think of it as a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, kicked up a notch. Known also to culinary insiders as a cubano, Cuban Mix, Cuban pressed sandwich, or mixto, this specialty sandwich is reported to have been around since the mid-1800s, with some reports dating its genesis to the early 1500s. It was served to workers in cigar factories and sugar mills, first in cities like Santiago de Cuba and Havana, Cuba, and then in Key West, Tampa, and Ybor City, Florida as cigar factories moved to the United States. The Cuban sandwich was a portable meal that could be eaten without fuss during the long work day.
According to food historians, by the mid-1960s the Cuban sandwich found a welcome home in Miami restaurants, too, following the large Cuban migration to that city after Battista’s fall. It made its way to New York, New Jersey, and Chicago as Cuban exiles moved further north. In Florida, street corner snack bars called loncherias readily serve the beloved Cuban sandwich, as they have for decades.
Variations on the sandwich include the medianoche, or midnight sandwich, popular at Havana nightclubs in the late night hours. The ingredients are the same as its Cuban sibling, but it is smaller and made with soft bread similar to traditional Jewish Challah.
Cuban Sandwich Recipe
Try this recipe for the ultimate Cuban sandwich, courtesy of Linda Stradley.
1 loaf Cuban bread*
Prepared yellow mustard
1/2 pound deli baked ham, thinly sliced
1/2 pound roasted pork, thinly sliced
8 thin dill pickle slices
1/2 pound Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
* Italian or French bread may be substituted
Slice the bread horizontally to open. Spread a thin layer of mustard on top and bottom halves of bread. Arrange ham, pork, pickle slices, and Swiss cheese evenly over the bread. Cover the sandwiches with the top halves of the bread. Cut into 4 sandwiches and use one of the following methods for cooking:
Sandwich/Panini Pres/George Foreman Grill: Grill sandwiches in a hot buttered sandwich press until flat, bread is browned, and cheese has melted. Remove from heat; cut each sandwich in half and serve immediately.
Waffle Iron: Turn over metal plates to the flat surface. Place sandwich in a hot buttered waffle iron, close cover, and grill for 3 minutes on each side.
Griddle or Frying Pan: Place sandwich on a hot griddle or frying pan, and position a heavy iron skillet or bacon press on top of the sandwich. Flatten the sandwich to about 1/4 of its original size. Grill the sandwich for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.