I cannot pretend that I can make a genuinely authentic Cuban sandwich; I live in an area of New England where the Cuban population may very well be nonexistent. However, I like to “travel the world” via my kitchen, and I decided I wanted to do my best to have a taste of Cuba’s signature sandwich. My greatest deviation from an authentic recipe is due to my use of leftover pulled pork that I had in the freezer; it is a pineapple BBQ sauce covered pulled pork that, while delicious, is utterly wrong for a Cuban. However, I loved the result so much that I dubbed the resulting sandwich “Cuban-eqsue.”
I did, however, do my best to make the closest approximation to Cuban bread that I could manage. It may be my very favorite bread ever; it is light, fluffy, has incredible flavor and incredibly crispy crust. It is absolute heaven with a schmear of butter. It does take planning ahead; you will need to make a starter and you will need to find lard at your grocery store or render your own, if you are feeling brave. I managed to find non-hydrogenated lard at my local grocery store; maybe next time I will experiment rendering my own from fat back!
There is an optional mojo sauce that you can dip your sandwich in; I subbed parsley for the cilantro. I one one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap; I cannot eat it. Avoiding cilantro means I have to retool a lot of classic dishes from foreign countries; I do hope purists will forgive me for having to avoid it. I have heard that you can train yourself to enjoy it; perhaps that should be my new year’s resolution. Regardless, use cilantro for the mojo sauce if you love it, or leave it out or sub in parsley if you hate it.
The brightness of the citrus in the sauce really does wonders for the flavor of the overall sandwich (and it complimented the flavor of my pineapple pulled pork, so it tied everything together beautifully). Enjoy!
Pulled Pork Recipe adapted from The Crumby Cupcake
1 4-lb. boneless pork shoulder roast
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 12-oz. bottle hard root beer
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Pineapple BBQ Sauce
2 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cooked pork juices
¾ cup pineapple juice
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce
⅔ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid smoke, to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water, mixed together into a slurry
For the pulled pork:
Mix together the dark brown sugar, salt, paprika, cumin, black pepper and red pepper flakes.
Rub this mixture all over your pork. Sear your pork on all sides, either in your slow cooker (if it has that function) or a saute pan. Remove the meat and set aside.
Add in your onions and garlic. Saute until they have softened. Add in the hard root beer, apple cider vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. This will deglaze your sauce pan if you are using one so that any brown bits from the meat will get into your slow cooker.
Add the meat, onion and liquid mixture into your slow cooker, including any leftover spice rub. Cover and cook on low for 10 hours, until the meat falls apart easily.
When your meat is incredibly tender, remove it to a large bowl. Drain your slow cooker of any liquid, but be sure to reserve 1 cup of the liquid for the BBQ sauce. turn the meat to the slow cooker on the warming function and shred the meat, removing any chunks of pure fat.
For the pineapple BBQ sauce:
In a medium saucepan set over high heat, combine all ingredients except liquid smoke and cornstarch slurry. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until sauce begins to darken and thicken.
In the final 5 minutes of cooking, add the liquid smoke a half tablespoon at a time until the flavor you desire is reached. Stir in the cornstarch slurry slowly and cook on low heat until the BBQ sauce thickens and is glossy.
Stir your BBQ sauce into the pulled pork in your slow cooker and turn on low for 30 to 40 minutes. This allows the pork to be warmed though and the flavors to meld together beautifully.
Cuban Bread- recipe credit Chef John, Food Wishes
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast
In a mason jar, add your water and yeast. Set aside for 5 minutes until the yeast begins to foam. Mix in your flour and whisk it all together well. Cover the mixture and refrigerate overnight, up to 24 hours.
3/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 package of active dry yeast
3 tablespoons lard
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
Combine the first three ingredients in your bread machine and let sit for 15 minutes, until the yeast is very foamy and activated. Add in the remaining ingredients and turn your bread machine to the “dough function.”
Once your machine indicates that the dough is ready, take it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. knock it down to remove the air bubbles, and shape it into a flat rectangle. Dive the dough equally. Press each piece out into a rectangle, approximately 12 inches by 4 inches. Roll your dough into a 12 inch long log, tucking the ends under. Place your dough, seam side down, onto a baking tray prepped with parchment paper and spread with cornmeal. Press your dough log flat. Repeat with your other dough piece. Sprinkle some flour onto your dough logs, and cover with a lint-free, dry kitchen towel. Put your bread somewhere warm and draft-free to double in size. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Right before putting your bread in the oven, take a very sharp knife or lame (a bread razor) and make a 1/4 inch slash down the center of each of your bread loaves. This will allow steam from the bread to escape and ensure the correct shape. Spray each loaf with water to create an extra crispy crust.
Bake your bread for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating your pan halfway through cooking time. Remove your bread onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (or parsley if you are like me)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 1.2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if you can find it)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Put the olive oil and garlic into a cold pan. Cook the garlic until it is fragrant, then add your ground spices. Cook for about 30 seconds, allowing the spices to infuse in the oil and for the garlic to become golden brown. Add your remaining ingredients and whisk well to combine. Allow to cool to room temperature. Whisk again to emulsify if you experience separation.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup yellow mustard
Dill pickles slices
Smoked ham sliced
Combine your mayo and mustard. Set aside. Take one loaf of your Cuban bread and slice in in half lengthwise. Remove the ends and slice your two long pieces in half again (each sandwich will have half of the top of the loaf and half of the bottom of the loaf).
Meanwhile, thoroughly heat your pulled pork in a skillet. If you do not heat your pulled pork, your sandwich will not get heated all the way through when your grill it.
Spread each piece of bread generously with the mayo/mustard sauce. Top with cheese, ham, the warmed pulled pork, pickles, more cheese, and the other piece of bread. Brush the outsides of your bread with melted butter or lard. Grill until golden brown and the cheese is melting in a panini press or in a skillet, pressing down on the sandwich as it cooks and flipping it halfway through. Slice in half diagonally and enjoy with your mojo sauce and your choice of chips!