With a side of cigars, please

January 16, 2015

A beach, a beer,  a cigar, and this.

A beach, a beer, a cigar, and this.

It seems appropriate, with the loosening of regulations regarding Cuban travel and trade, that I’ve been in the notion for Cuban sandwiches — Cubanos — of late.

I haven’t yet managed to conjure up the beach or a Cuban cigar. Give me time.

So I’ve made them two or three times this winter. And when I make Cubanos, I make the bread and I make the mojo pork that goes in them. I have, to date, not made the pickles or the Swiss cheese, but don’t bet on that not happening someday, either.

I’ve been in love with Cubanos since I had my first REAL one in Miami several years ago. There are a couple of places outside Florida where you can get decent ones (including at a little sandwich shop in downtown Little Rock) — plus at my house. Something about the combination of ingredients — the sharp, tangy taste of the pork, the smooth richness of the ham, the piquant mustard against the bite of the pickles and the Swiss cheese, all of it encased by a good chewy bread…well, it’s just good, that’s all.

What it is NOT is simple. Making Cubans is a two-day process, and it is not possible to make the ingredients for just ONE sandwich. Fortunately, most everything freezes well; I have, at this moment, the makings for four sandwiches in the fridge. My pork recipe makes about enough for 12 sandwiches; I shred it all, apportion it in plastic bags, and freeze. My pan Cubano (bread) recipe makes one big loaf or four sizeable hoagie buns. A half-bun is plenty of sandwich for me. But if you’re going to have a crowd over for the Super Bowl, this is a fine sandwich to make, because you can put them out on a platter and eat them at room temperature. For the same reason, they’re a good sandwich to take out of the fridge, wrap in waxed paper, and toss in your purse for a workday lunch; by then, they’ll have warmed up enough to be about right, or you can knock the chill off in the office microwave.

So without further ado:

Two nights before: Marinate your mojo pork, and make the starter for your bread.

Mojo pork, after marinating, roasting and shredding.

Mojo pork, after marinating, roasting and shredding.

Mojo marinade for pork

Use a 2-3 pound Boston butt roast.


  • 1 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • About eight garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 bay leaves

Set this aside. I always used garlic confit instead of raw garlic cloves, because I always keep garlic confit in my fridge, so I use my stick blender to make sure it gets pureed well with the liquid.

Salt and pepper the roast liberally, and brown it well on all sides in a skillet. Remove to a plate and let it cool enough to handle, then move it to a big plastic bag and pour the marinade in on top. I use a plastic bag because I can squeeze the air out and get more of the roast covered by the marinade; I still turn it occasionally in the fridge to make sure it seasons evenly.

Refrigerate overnight.

Pan Cubano Starter

Dissolve a teaspoon of yeast in 1/3 cup warm water in a small bowl. When yeast starts to foam, stir in 1/3 cup flour to form a thick paste. Cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Pan Cubano hoagie buns

Pan Cubano hoagie buns

The next day, put the roast in a baking dish that’s just a bit bigger than it is, and pour over enough of the marinade to come halfway up the side. Roast in a 350-degree oven for four to six hours (you can’t overcook it), turning over after two hours. Add more reserved marinade to keep it from drying out.

Rest the roast for about 15 minutes, then use spatulas to move it from the dish to a wire rack set over a baking pan to drain. Shred the meat, discarding fat, when it’s cool enough to handle.

While the roast is cooking, make your bread. Mix together:

  • Half the starter (additional starter can stay in the fridge for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months)
  • 2 envelopes, or a scant 2 tablespoons yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3-4 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening, room temp
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in half the water. When it starts to foam, mix in the lard, remaining water and starter. Move to a mixing bowl and mix in flour, a cup at a time, adding the salt with the first cup of flour. You want a dough that’s firm enough to knead, but still soft and just a little sticky.

Either knead for about 5 minutes with a dough hook on your mixer, or 8-10 minutes by hand. Put in a oiled bowl and cover with a towel, and set in a warm spot to rise (I turn my oven on warm for a few minutes, then turn it off, and let bread rise in the oven).

When dough size is doubled (maybe an hour, hour and a half), punch down and form the bread however you want to make it. I like my Cubanos on hoagie rolls, so I separate the dough into four equal parts, and form them into cylinders about eight inches long and two inches in diameter, then put them on a parchment-covered cookie sheet to rise. You can also bake the bread in a 9 x 5 loaf pan, if you want to just slice the bread and make your Cubanos on slices. Bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven until lightly browned.

To assemble and finish your Cubanos — Split the hoagie rolls or slice the loaf into thick slices (3/4 to an inch thick). Paint each slice liberally with mustard. Your basic Cuban uses plain old yellow ballpark mustard; I prefer my homemade spicy brown. Cover one slice with shredded pork; add a slice of Swiss cheese, and a slice of ham. I have used deli ham when in a pinch, but it’s really better with cured ham from one you baked at home. If you use deli ham, get a good variety and have it sliced thicker than basic sandwich slice thickness. Top the whole thing with pickles.

Here I deviate from the traditional Cubano. The canonical version would have you use dill slices or chips. I like bread and butter pickles on mine. Your mileage may vary.

Finally, top with the final slice of bread and grill in a press. If you don’t have a press, as I don’t, grill in an iron skillet (just lightly greased), with another skillet sitting atop the sandwiches.

The traditional accompaniment would be fried plantains (maduros). I didn’t want to go to that much trouble. I had potato salad and jail slaw in the fridge, so I had that.

If I’d’a had a good Cuban cigar and a Presidente beer to finish things off, it would have been just about perfect. If it had been 80 degrees, on the beach.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em try this the next time you need to do sandwiches for a crowd. You’ll impress your guests.




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