Originally known as the mixto or mixed sandwich, the Cuban sandwich was introduced to Florida by cigar laborers arriving from Cuba at the beginning of the 20th century. The dish consists of lengthwise sliced Cuban bread, roasted pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, thin slices of dill pickles, and, according to some sources, mustard. When assembled, the sandwich needs to be pressed in la plancha, a sandwich press similar to a panini press, but without ridged surfaces. An important ingredient of the sandwich is the crusty Cuban bread, which is traditionally baked with palmetto leaves inserted along the top of the loaf, creating the recognizable split crust. Palmetto leaves allow the bread to expand during baking, the same as slashes do on other kinds of bread dough. The leaves do not influence the flavor of the bread; they are used simply for creating the signature crusty ridge. Key West and Tampa, the two big cigar factory areas which housed many foreign workers, including the Cubans, have different versions of the sandwich. In Tampa, besides the ingredients mentioned above, they also add Genoa salami, whereas, in Key West, the dish always includes lettuce and tomato.
The first versions of the dish were supposedly made around the year 1500 by the Taíno tribe in Cuba, with casabe bread, made from yucca. Two thin, crunchy slices of bread were filled with fish and bird meat. With the arrival of the Europeans, the natives started to incorporate pork and ham into their diet and replaced crunchy and hard casabe with a doughy, bread-like alternative. By the 1930s, the mixto was regularly found in the cafeterias of Cuba and was well-liked by sugar mill employees. Since the Cuban cigar manufacturers moved their business to Florida in the late 19th century, the Cubans often traveled to Florida for employment. The oldest written notices of the sandwich, as it is known today, can be found in the descriptions of workers' cafes in Ybor City and near West Tampa at the turn of the century. The Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, was a workingman's lunch for the workers employed in the cigar industry. Some mention that the workers brought their sandwiches from home, secured by toothpicks, while others claim the sandwiches were sold on-site for 15 cents apiece. At some point in time, Genoa salami was added to the sandwich, influenced by the Italians. By the 1960s, the dish spread to Miami.
- Step 1For the marinade, mash the garlic and salt in a pestle and mortar. Put the mashed mixture in a small bowl and add onion, oregano, and the sour orange juice. Mix altogether. Add the mash to a saucepan in which you've heated some oil. Stir well. Turn off the heat and set aside.Step 2Pour the majority of the marinade over the pork, which you've pierced thoroughly using a knife or a fork. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.Step 3Place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan into a preheated oven (325 degrees). Drizzle the pork with the remaining marinade. Roast until completely cooked, about 20 minutes per pound (until the meat thermometer registers 160 degrees). Grease the meat occasionally with cooking juices. When cooked, let the pork rest for at least 20 minutes before cutting it to thin slices.Step 4Bring the leftover pan juices to a boil and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Use this juice to moisten the meat in the sandwiches.Step 5Divide the bread into four 8-inched sections and slice them in half horizontally. Spread the butter on each side of the halves then stuff the sandwiches in the following order: pickles, roasted pork, ham, and cheese. Add mustard if desired.Step 6In a preheated pancake griddle or a frying pan coated with cooking spray, press sandwiches, one by one, using a heavy iron skillet or a bacon press - the aim is to flatten the bread to a third of its original size. Grill until the cheese melts and the bread becomes golden in color (about 2 to 3 minutes on each side). Repeat the process for all the sandwiches. Before serving, slice each sandwich diagonally in half.
HOW to MAKE a CUBAN SANDWICH