A toasty, crunchy, melty Cuban sandwich, hot off the grill! All the classic flavors, but without the fuss. My twist on this Florida favorite is calling your name. Go ahead and take a bite!
The origin of the Cuban sandwich is not definitively known, and to some it’s humble origins are hotly debated.
What we do know is this… in the late 1800s and early 1900s, travel back and forth by sailboat between Cuba and Florida was commonplace, both for work and for pleasure.
Around that time, Tampa was one of the largest cigar producing regions in the US, and immigrants flocked to Ybor City to work in the factories. According to many Tampanians, the workers needed a quick and hearty meal to grab on the go and to keep them fueled throughout the day. Thus, the “Mixto” sandwich (later “Cubano”) was born, influenced by several food cultures: Cuban mojo-marinated roast pork, Spanish fine ham, Sicilian salami, German and Jewish Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. The famed Columbia restaurant in Tampa purports to still be serving their original “Cubano” recipe as written by the founder, Casimiro Hernandez, Sr.
Miamians will argue the Cubano was actually born in an earlier era, tracing its roots back to Cuban soil, and influenced by European visitors to the island. (Fun fact: Miami is not commonly credited as the birthplace of the sandwich as the city was established in 1896 with only 300 people, at least several years after the sandwich was first documented). To many Miami locals, they make the best and most authentic Cuban Sandwich, which has fueled a friendly rivalery between Miami and Tampa.
No matter where and how the iconic Cubano came about though, one thing is for sure – the world is a better place for it!
A classic Cubano, with it’s layers of pork, ham, swiss cheese, yellow mustard and pickles, is an unlikely combination of pure genius. I can also tell you that growing up, I ate nothing that came close to rival the flavors of this classic sandwich.
We didn’t travel much up to Tampa, and our only experiences came by way of a grocery stop on the way to the beach to fill our cooler with premade Cuban Sandwiches. Sure, all the components were there – and we certainly enjoyed them – but they were nothing like a hot pressed Cubano fresh off the grill.
When I make them at home now, I want something that flirts with traditional, but without the fuss of making a mojo-marinated pork shoulder, and without the inherent heaviness that it yields.
Instead, I use a deli sliced smoked turkey breast, which lightens up the sandwich, yet imparts a great smoky flavor. Still there, of course, are sliced honey roasted ham, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese and the pickle. My mom always smeared a hefty amount of mayo on those grocery store sandwiches, so in that spirit, I coat the outside of the bread before placing it on a hot grill. Mayo helps the bread crisp in the most amazing way.
One note on the bread: a good Cuban sandwich requires good Cuban bread. If you don’t have access to authentic Cuban bread, use a soft french style bread roll (not a crispy baguette). You want it to be able to flatten when you press it on the grill.
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- 1 eight inch Cuban bread roll or a very soft French style bread
- 3 thin slices ham
- 3 thin slices smoked turkey
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 4-5 long thinly sliced pickles
- 4 slices swiss cheese
- 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
- Heat your grill or grill pan to medium.
- Split the bread lengthwise and place it cut side up on your work surface. Spread the mustard on one side, then lay the cheese slices on both halves of the bread. Lay the ham and turkey, slightly crumpled and overlapping, on the half without the mustard. Top with the pickle slices, then close the sandwich.
- Rub one teaspoon of the mayonnaise on the top of the roll, then place on your grill, mayo side down. Rub the other teaspoon of mayo on the side facing up. Grill for 2-3 minutes, adjusting the heat if it is too high. Press down on the sandwich with a sturdy spatula, then flip the sandwich, and grill for another 2-3 minutes on that side, again pressing to flatten.
- Remove to a cutting board, cut in half and serve.
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