After Executive Editor Bryan Roof returned from the International Cuban Sandwich Festival in Tampa, Florida, he set me a goal: Create a home recipe for Cuban sandwiches that would stand up to the prizewinners he tasted.
The sandwich is familiar on a basic level: Roasted spiced pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard on soft bread that’s pressed and toasted until golden brown. In Tampa, the sandwiches also include Genoa salami.
A fantastic combination any way you look at it, it’s no surprise that there are as many variations of the sandwich as there are fans of it. I wanted to take it back to its Tampa roots: Yes, there’d be salami on it; yes, I’d follow the traditional, particular order of components and amounts of each; yes, I’d even make the bread; yes, all this for a sandwich. And yes (!), it would be worth it.
Let’s start with the bread. A Cuban sandwich must be made on golden Cuban bread that’s fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside, which is not easy to find outside of Florida. It’s traditionally enriched with lard for a savory flavor (not sweet or yeasty like a typical sandwich loaf). When the fully assembled sandwich is toasted on the griddle, the bread is just sturdy enough to hold the many layers together as the flavors fuse.
I found it essential to slice the roast pork very thin. Thick slices interfered with a clean, even press, and shredded pork was harder to distribute evenly on the bread. Cooling the roast so it firmed up a bit before slicing meant I could achieve the perfect thinness with a good sharp knife.
Taking inspiration from some creative cooks at the Tampa festival, I included a swipe of flavorful mojo on each bottom slice of bread for extra complexity and brightness.
After 35 pork butts; 80 loaves of bread; and piles of ham, cheese, pickles, and more, I pressed and toasted my final batch of sandwiches. I cut them into their characteristic triangle shape, and coworkers began to swarm. (To see the highs and lows of my journey to the ultimate Cuban sandwich, check out the YouTube series we made about it.)
The work is worth it. Just make sure you eat it point side up.