When answering the question of "What is on a Cuban Sandwich?" I think I'll have to first go back and talk about the history and origin of the Cubano. Then we we will get into the Cuban Sandwich Recipe including an authentic recipe for Cuban Bread.
Origin of the Cuban Sandwich
Upon doing my research, it seems that nobody really knows where the sandwich actually originated. I read some articles talking about a "sandwich" that was created well before the Cuban.
The description didn't match in the slightest. It was a sandwich in that it had crackers for bread and fish on it. Sounds like a bland fish sandwich to me, but it is what it is, literally.
Everything that I have read points to the early 19th century when travel to Cuba was far easier than it has been in recent history. Cuban's workers were traveling back forth between Florida and Cuba mainly for the cigar industry. So the thought is that the it was a popular or common lunch item for these workers.
All of this brings me to the main topic, What is on a Cuban Sandwich? Well this seems to be a bit unclear as well.
Tampa vs Miami
Miami lays claim to making the Cuban Sandwich as popular as it is today, which might certainly be the case. I like to look at facts and the fact is, the first public record of the Cuban Sandwich was in Tampa.
Cuban Bread is the most important part of a Cuban Sandwich. A Sicilian born man by the name of Francisco Ferlita created Cuban Bread in, you guessed it, Tampa. This was at a cafe by the name of La Joven Francesca Bakery in 1896.
So now you might be wondering, what is the debate on the sandwich? A Cuban is a Cuban! Wrong! Well, at least wrong in the eyes of these two cities. You see, in Tampa they add Salami and in Miami they don't!
That's it. Heres the deal, no matter how you stack it, the bread is a 100% must. Let's get into the nuts and bolts of this whole thing.
What's on a Cuban Sandwich
So, I have already talked about the bread and I'll show you how to make that. We discussed Salami. Put it on if you want, if not, don't. Simple.
Really, the rest is also very simple. Pork, Ham, Swiss Cheese, Pickles, Mustard, and Butter.
Slap it all together, smush it down, and you've got yourself a Cuban Sandwich. I could leave it at that, but I have a feeling that isn't why you're here.
Let's Get To Cooking!
Cuban Bread Starter
First things first, we need to make the cuban bread which is going to start with a starter. This is a simple mixture of 2-¼ teaspoon Instant Yeast, ½ cup Warm Water, and ½ cup of Flour. Simply mix them all together and with a whisk, put it in the fridge over night and you're good to go.
Mojo Sauce and Marinade
I am making a Mojo sauce and Moho Shredded pork which is also started the night before.
This is super easy, in a blender, mix 2 tablespoon minced Garlic, 2 sweet onions, Zest and Juice of 2 oranges and 3 limes, 2 tablespoon Oregano, 4 Bunches of Fresh Mint Leaves, 1 tablespoon Ground Cumin, 2 whole Serrano Chiles, 1 cup Olive Oil, 1-½ tablespoon Kosher Salt.
Mix it all up and pour about a cup and half in a squeeze bottle for serving, then dump the rest over an 8 to 10 lb Bone-in Pork Butt shoulder.
Allow the Pork Butt to marinate over night in the fridge to soak up all of that flavor.
Now, for the Pork butt, I am cooking on the Big Green Egg but this can be done on any type of smoker, grill, slow cooker, or even in the oven. If you have the option of cooking over charcoal though, I highly recommend doing so.
First, get your cooker preheated to about 275-300°f. While the temp is getting steady set the pork butt out to come closer to room temperature. Once you have gotten the cooker up to temp go ahead and pop that bad boy in there.
The Pork butt is going to be cooked to an internal temp of 195°f so this cook is going to take a while just like if you were smoking a pork butt. However, in this cook we are not using any wood chunks, pellets, or otherwise. The natural smoke from the lump charcoal will give it all the outdoor flavor we need.
Truly, a perfectly mild smokiness.
About three hours in, take a look at the pork, it should be starting to get a nice color on the outside, some fat has already started rendering down and this is when you want to start monitoring the internal temperature. Place your meat thermometer probe in the center of the butt being certain you don't hit bone.
We will monitor the internal temperature until it hits 160°f and then it's time to wrap that butt!
For this recipe I recommend wrapping in Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil because we aren't concerned with preserving the bark like if we were smoking a Pork Butt, since there won't really be any.
Once the pork is wrapped, probe the meat in the same spot and cook until the internal temp hits 195°f, at which point you can remove it from the cooker and stick in a cooler to rest until ready to shred.
Recipe for Cuban Bread
Grab your closest stand mixer, or whatever you have.
I use the Kitchen-aide Professional 5 Plus and literally make bread for a whole community. So if you want to hand mix and knead the bread i'm sure you could! But if not, get a kitchen-aide!
In your main mixing bowl, pour 2-¼ teaspoon instant yeast. In a separate bowl with a thermometer, pour in 1-¼ Cups warm water and allow it to cool to between 109-105°f. Once the water has hit the correct temperature pour it over the yeast in your mixing bowl. Allow your yeast to bloom in the water for about 8-10 minutes. You will start to see it rise and flourish in the water.
While the yeast is activating, in a separate bowl, whisk 3-½ cups Bread Flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 teaspoon Salt together with a fork.
Next, pour the dry mixture over your Yeast and Water mixture, add your starter from the night before and 3 Tbsp. of Lard. Mix well using a Stand mixer or by hand, whichever you prefer.
Once mixed, place your dough ball in well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about an hour until doubled in size.
Then, punch it down and allow it to rise for one more hour.
Baking Cuban Bread
Preheat the oven to 400°f and place a pan of water on the very bottom rack to create steam.
Lastly, on a well floured surface, roll the dough out, cut that roll into thirds, and roll each one of those into a loaf shape being sure you tuck the ends under and have an even loaf through out.
Once you have the loaves rolled out, score the loaves using a sanitized razor blade or extremely sharp knife. Don't score the loaves too deep. You're looking for a small, shallow, and even slice across the top of each loaf.
Now, you can either wet your hands and then the loaves or use a spray bottle to spray them down. Either way is fine, I didn't have a spray bottle so I wet the loaves myself.
Bake the loaves in the oven for 20 minutes and then place on a cooling rack until you're ready to start assembling the sandwiches.
Assembling and Cooking a Cuban Sandwich
Now comes the fun part...making the sandwiches!
Place a Cast Iron Griddle and a Cast Iron Skillet on the stove. Be sure that both are at medium heat, but fully heated all the way through.
If you haven't already, shred the pork. I promise, this wont be hard. I have personally used meat claws, gloves, and when I didn't have those, I just used two forks. Whatever works!
Now, evenly slice a loaf of your Cuban Bread. Spread Mustard on the bottom piece of bread, place your Swiss cheese, pickle slices, ham, shredded Mojo pork, then top with two strips of Mojo Sauce.
Place the top piece of bread on the sandwich and brush with melted butter.
Transfer the Sandwich over to a preheated Cast Iron Griddle and flip it over so the is top down. Brush butter on the now top side of the sandwich.
Using your grilling gloves, grab the preheated Cast Iron Skillet and start smushing the sandwich down evenly.
Once the sandwich has been smushed to your liking and the cheese is melting, flip the sandwich over using a large spatula or a griddle spatula.
Allow this to cook for just a minute.
Remove, slice in half, then slice those halves diagonally.
What is on a Cuban Sandwich
Cuban Bread (Starter)
- 2 ¼ tsp. Instant Yeast
- ½ Cup Warm Water
- ½ Cup Bread Flour
Cuban Bread (Loaves)
- 1 ¼ Cups Warm Water
- 2 ¼ tsp. Instant Yeast
- 3 ½ Cups Bread Flour
- 1 Tbsp. Sugar
- 2 tsp. Salt
- 3 Tbsp. Lard
Mojo Sauce and Mojo Pork
- 8-10lb Bone in Pork Butt
- 2 tablespoon Minced Garlic
- 2 Sweet Onions
- Zest and Juice of 2 Oranges
- Zest and Juice of 3 Limes
- 2 Tbsp. Oregano
- 2 Bunches of Mint Leaves
- 1 Tbsp. Ground Cumin
- 2 Whole Serrano Chiles
- 1 Cup Olive Oil
- 1 ½ tablespoon Kosher Salt
The Cuban Sandwich
- Sliced Dill Pickles
Cuban Bread (Starter)
- Whisk together yeast, water, and flour then cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight.
Mojo Sauce and Pork
- In a blender, mix minced Garlic, Sweet Onions, Zest and Juice of Oranges and Limes, Oregano, Fresh Mint leaves, Ground Cumin, Serrano Chiles, Olive Oil, Kosher Salt.
- Pour about a cup and a half in a squeeze bottle for serving,
- Dump the rest over an 8 to 10 lb Bone-in Pork Butt shoulder.
- Allow the Pork Butt to marinate overnight.
- Preheat Smoker/Grill/Oven to about 275-300°f. Once you've reached your temp. place the pork butt on the smoker.
- Cook to an internal Temperature of 160°f, wrap in foil, and return to the smoker.
- Cook until its reached an internal temperature of 195°f, remove and allow to rest, still wrapped, in a cooler.
Cuban Bread Loaves
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour instant yeast. In a separate bowl with a thermometer, pour in warm water and allow it to cool to between 109-105°f.
- Once the water has hit the correct temperature pour it over the yeast in your mixing bowl. Allow your yeast to bloom in the water for about 8-10 minutes.
- In a separate bowl, whisk 3-½ cups Bread Flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 teaspoon Salt together with a fork.
- Pour the dry mixture over your Yeast and Water, add your starter from the night before and 3 Tbsp. of Lard. Mix well using a Stand mixer.
- Place your dough in well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about an hour until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down and allow to rise for another hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400°f and place a pan of water on the very bottom rack to create steam.
- On a well floured surface, roll the dough out, cut that roll into thirds, and roll each one of those into a loaf shape.
- Score the loaves using a razor blade or extremely sharp knife.
- Wet the loaves with a spray bottle or rubbing water onto them by hand.
- Bake the loaves on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes.
- Once loaves are golden brown, remove from the oven and cool on your cooling racks.
Assembling the Cuban Sandwich
- Place a Cast Iron Griddle and a Cast Iron Skillet on the stove. Be sure that both are fully heated.
- Shred the pork using claws, gloves, or two forks. Whatever works!
- Evenly slice a loaf of your Cuban Bread.
- Spread Mustard on the bottom piece of bread, place your Swiss cheese, pickle slices, ham, shredded Mojo pork, then top with two strips of Mojo Sauce.
- Place the top piece of bread on the sandwich and brush with melted butter.
- Transfer the Sandwich to the preheated Cast Iron Griddle and flip it over so the is top down. Brush butter on the now top side of the sandwich.
- Using your grilling gloves, grab the preheated Cast Iron Skillet and start pressing the sandwich down evenly.
- Once the sandwich has been pressed to your liking and the cheese is melting, flip the sandwich over using a large spatula or a griddle spatula.
- Allow this to cook for just a minute.
- Remove, slice in half, then slice those halves diagonally.
- SERVE AND ENJOY!
The Cuban Sandwich is a Florida Staple and now popular all over the country. No matter which city it originated in, it's absolutely delicious and I hope that you are just as excited as I am to be able to make it at home!
As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and recipes!
PS: LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS IF YOU'VE EVER HAD A CUBAN SANDWICH!
Neil Sanchez says
You got one thing right, the bread was first made at the Ferlita bakery in Ybor. If you want more information on how the sandwich came about, contact y.
Thank you so much for the comment and feedback. I would love more of the history on this sandwich.