Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Channeling My Inner Miami

All hail, the Cubano:



This one was enjoyed as tonights dinner, along with some steamed chilled green beans and carrot sticks. On paper plates, because we're talking street food here.

Did you know this sandwich is unique to south Florida? I didn't, until about half a minute ago.

If you've never had the pleasure of a Cubano, aka a Cuban sandwich, and you can't run right down to Miami and get one, I'll help you out.
It's a simple combo of ham and roast pork with swiss cheese, dill pickles and mustard. That's it other than the bread, which, just like great sandwiches the world over, is the defining characteristic. According to a quick online knowin-up, there's no such thing as Cuban bread outside Miami, but I promise you'll do just fine with a good puffy Italian or French loaf. I used baguette which is really a little too crusty, but hey, it's what I had on hand.

So it sounds easy, and almost a little boring right? But believe this white girl from the 'burbs when she tells you that it's one of those combinations of ingredients that sings and once you have an authentic Cubano, it'll be one of those flavor memories that sticks with you for life. Good, simple street food has a way of doing that, doesn't it?

In lieu of roast pork shoulder or some other more flavorful but huge cut that I was not prepared to address on this particular day, I did a quick braise with some boneless loin chops in beer plus cumin, coriander, a bit of chilli powder, salt, pepper and oregano. I tossed the still partially frozen chops into a pan with the rest of this stuff and just let it simmer with a cover on for three hours, until I could break the meat up easily with a fork. After that, I reduced the liquid and gave everything a good final toss before piling it on the sandwiches with the rest of the ingredients.
If you can, use a good honey roasted or glazed sliced ham, because with the acid of the pickles and mustard, the sandwich definitely benefits from sweeter ham.
I cooked mine on the pannini press, but an authentic Cubano is flat, pressed and cooked on a flat griddle, or plancha. You could replicate either of these methods with a cast iron skillet and a second pan on top of the sandwich to press it down. The flatter and more mushed together the ingredients, the better. Some recipes I looked at say to brush the outside of the bread with butter before griddling. I don't see how that could be bad.
Most importantly you have to cut it on the diagonal, or it just won't taste right.

So go cook yourself up a taste of Miami. It's a variation on the regular old ham and cheese that I think you'll come to love!

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