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~ The Ideal Cubano: La Ideal's Cubano Sandwich ~

IMG_4884Almost all famous sandwiches got their iconic status thanks to the working class people -- Cuba's Cubano is one such sandwich.  In the early 20th Century, vendors who were stationed inside the workplaces, sold hot meat and cheese sandwiches to the workers.  When these workers made their way to the USA, usually to regions in Southern Florida, they, like all immigrants, brought their recipes and traditions with them -- that included their institutional but beloved Cuban sandwich.

Pan-cubanoA bit about the Cubano:  Like all sandwiches, it starts with the bread. Cuban bread is light and crusty -- alot like a French bread loaf.  Cuban bakeries baked through the early AM hours and delivered the bread to customers by hanging it on a nail outside their door.  Because Cuban bread had a short shelf life, Cuban sandwiches were typically made within a few hours of receiving it.

The Cuban bread gets sliced down the middle hoagie- or submarine-style, then slathered with yellow mustard.  Thinly-sliced deli-style dill pickles, Swiss cheese and ham get layered on, followed by shards of mojo-marinated Cuban-style pulled pork roast.  Traditionally, mustard is the only condiment added (although after-the-fact, it's not unusual for some folks to add mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato).  While a Cubano can be served cold, it's almost always heated in a sandwich press (a panini grill) until the cheese is melted and the bread is grilled to golden.

IMG_2214A panini press is basically a double-sided appliance that cooks both sides of a sandwich at once. Much like a grill pan, the grids of a panini press give these sandwiches their signature grill marks.  There are several good brands, in all price ranges, on the market.  My Cuisinart Griddler is about 5 years old.  It doesn't take up too much space, controls heat perfectly, and, I love it. This gadget has earned its rightful place on my kitchen counter. 

Much like the Philadelphia cheesesteak, Cubano enthusiasts say the most authentic version is found in the Tampa, Florida region, where the Americanized version of the sandwich is said to have originated.  Today I'm featuring the Cuban Sandwich recipe from my favorite Cuban cookbook:  Eating Cuban, written by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs, copyright 2006, and, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.  As the cover says, "120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores".  As I say, "120 Authentic, Spot-On Cuban Recipes that Work in the American Home Kitchen".  The photography is super-gorgeous as well.

While Eating Cuban is my favorite Cuban cookbook --

IMG_4812Thanks to great recipes in all seven of the cookbooks I purchased in Florida, I've been able to bring the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen. Because my experiences with Cuban cuisine are limited to trips to Miami, without them, how would I learn that "mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it's a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.

La Ideal's Cuban Sandwich.  As per Eating Cuban:

La_ideal2Located in what was once an old grocery store, La Ideal is a favorite neighborhood hangout for members of Tampa's Cuban-American community.  The scene is animated and relaxed.  Regulars chat from table to table, but the feeling is inclusive, with visitors made to feel like members of the family.  A dynamic force behind the atmosphere at La Ideal is Majito, Mario Aguila Jr. Majito's dad.  Mario Sr. moved his family to the United States from Cuba in 1966.  After ten years in New York City, the family settled in Tampa, Florida and opened La Ideal.  In 2005, Mario Sr. sold La Ideal to Luis and Juanita Tejada.  The ownership has changed, but Mojito has stayed on at the front of the house, and with Juanita in charge in the kitchen, the food is still great. Cuban sandwiches (Cubanos), toasted in a large sandwich press, are a specialty of their house.

IMG_4875For each sandwich (which can be assembled and wrapped in plastic wrap 1-2 hours prior to grilling, which is convenient if you're making them for a crowd):

1  4 1/2"-5" section of a loaf of very fresh French bread that has been trimmed of ends then cut into lengths that will accommodate panini press (Note: La Ideal's recipe uses an 8"-9" section of bread.  That said, in the home kitchen, I find a 4 1/2"-5" section to be more manageable.)

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  tablespoon mayonnaise

1  dill pickle, cut into 2 long, thin strips, or, 2-4 dill pickle chips

2  thin slices deli-style Swiss cheese

2  thin slices deli-style ham

1/2  cup pulled and diced or thinly-sliced mojo-marinated Cuban-style pork roast (3-4 ounces)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill grids on panini press

IMG_4847 IMG_4851 IMG_4852 IMG_4855 IMG_4860 IMG_4865~Step 1.  To assemble sandwiches, trim ends from bread, cut into desired sized sections, then split sections in half lengthwise.  Spread mustard on cut side of each bottom half and mayonnaise on each top half.  Layer pickle slices on top of mustard, then add 2 slices Swiss cheese, 2 slices ham, and finally, a generous pile of pulled pork.

IMG_4871 IMG_4878 IMG_4883~ Step 2.  Preheat the grill press to medium-high and when light goes on, spray grids with no-stick.  Place assembled sandwich on hot grill grids.  Place top of press directly on top of sandwich.  Firmly, but gently, using the press's handle, press down on the sandwich for 45--60 seconds.  You are NOT trying to squish the sandwich to oblivion.  You ARE trying to put just enough pressure on it to steam and crisp the bread a bit.  Let go.  Continue to cook until crisp, golden and cheese is melted, 4-6 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove sandwich from grids and allow to rest 1-2 minutes prior to slicing and eating.

The only thing more beautiful than an assembled Cubano...

IMG_4870... is a grilled Cubano.  Patience -- let it rest a minute or two.

IMG_4879And every bite of a Cubano is an absolute delight: 

IMG_4907The Ideal Cubano:  La Ideal's Cubano Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to assemble and grill as many Cubano sandwiches as desired.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; panini press; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bCook's Note:  Those of you who know me know I consider a high-quality, well-constructed sandwich to be the perfect, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.  For me, a sandwich is much more than just putting a few ingredients between two slices of bread to stave off a hunger attack.  Like meal making, sandwich making requires thought, and, I consider myself to be a very thoughtful sandwich crafter.  For my own famous grilled-sandwich recipe, I invented this one just for me.  Try my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)


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