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The Art of the Cuban Sandwich
My family came to the United States from Cuba back in the early sixties and they brought with them many of their traditions. Cuban cuisine was one of the main traditions that they brought back from their country. My grandmother would often prepare many traditional Cuban dishes, such as chicken with rice, friend plantains, shredded skirt steak, and white rice with black beans. What I like the best was when my family would go to the Cuban market place and buy materials for making the famous Media-Noche Sandwich, which means Midnight Sandwich in Spanish. I still love those sandwiches, and whenever I have the opportunity to go to a restaurant where they make them, that is what I usually order.
Origins of Cuban Cuisine
Cuban food is a composite of Spanish, African and Caribbean Cuisines. Cuban recipes contain spices from Spain and Africa, as well as the Caribbean. There is even some Chinese influence in Cuban cuisine, but that is mostly in the Havana area. When Cuba was a colony of Spain the main gastronomical influence was from Spain. Some Spaniards had slaves that came from Africa and they brought with them their cuisine and this became part of the Cuban gastronomy.
Cuba’s geographic region has also been a dominant factor in the evolution of its cuisine, being in the tropics and having a vast amount of tropical fish it has many dishes that contain seafood. The tropical climate also contributes with the Cuban gastronomy, by providing many fruits and root vegetables commonly used in Cuban cuisine.
Although rice and bean dishes are found in most regions of Cuba, Cuban food varies from colony to colony. In the eastern part of the island rice and beans are referred to Arroz Congri Oriental and in another region of Cuba rice and beans would be commonly referred to Congri Arroz Moros or Moros y Christianos. Different provinces also have different specialties that are well known in that province. In Santiago de Cuba, where my father is from they serve a dish known as Arroz Imperial.
Even though Cuban food is rooted in Spanish cuisine, it has become a new creation. Like other Latin American countries that have their roots in Spanish cuisine, Cuban food has a uniqueness all its own, making it a favorite of many people in the Americas and Europe as well as other part of the world.
The Story of the Cuban Sandwich
In Cuba the Cuban sandwich is simply referred to as a sandwich. The Cuban sandwich has been a Cuban tradition since the 1500's. It was the Spaniards that brought the ham and cheese, which are the primary ingredients, to Cuba. Over the next 400 years the Cuban Sandwich evolved into the delicacy it is today. What made this sandwich special, was the use of what is known as the plancha (type of panini grill) for cooking it.
In the 1870 many Cubans came to work and live in Key West in order to escape Spanish dominion and thus brought their cuisine with them. Since it was practical they ate sandwiches, made with the Cuban flair. These sandwiches were popular and inexpensive, they sold for only fifteen cents a sandwich.
In 1896 La Joven Francesca Bakery, located in Tampa, Florida was the first bakery to make Cuban bread. Then in 1947 Frank Graces a Cuban immigrant opened the Do Drop Inn, in Northwest Miami, where he introduced the Cuban Sandwich to Miami. Later in 1949 he sold the Do Drop Inn and bought a larger dining establishment that he named the Knife and Fork. Cuban Sandwiches became so popular at his restaurant that he even painted a sign in front of his dining establishment that said "Home of the Cuban Sandwich." He later retired in 1969.
In 1947 the oldest Cuban Sandwich Shop in Tampa opened. The famous Silver Ring Cafe, which is still in business today. Since1959 till the present the Cuban Sandwich has been a favorite throughout Little Havana, and the rest of Miami as well as Tampa. It is served throughout the Florida region, and the United States, as well as other nations. The Cuban Sandwich is a culinary marvel that is easy to make and very tasty.
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Several Cuban Sandwiches and how to make them
Sandwich Cubano (Cuban sandwich)
Make four large Sandwiches
- Cuban bread (or substitute French bread if you must, the long loaf bread)
- Softened butter
- Dill pickles sliced
- 1 pound roasted pork, sliced for a little extra flavor sprinkle a little Mojo sauce on the meat before adding the cheese.
- 1 pound good quality ham, sliced
- ½ pound Swiss cheese, sliced (use a mild Swiss; use baby Swiss it has less holes)
- Yellow mustard
- Preheat griddle or sauté pan.
- Cut the bread into sections about eight inches long.
- Cut these sections in half.
- Spread butter on the bread also spread mustard and mayonnaise although they are optional.
- Add pickles, roasted pork, ham, and cheese (put a generous amount, this sandwich is meant to be enjoyed)
- Place Sandwich in the lightly greased hot griddle or sauté pan.
- Press sandwich with bacon press. (you may also do this with a panini press)
- Press the sandwich hard, you want it to be 1/3 of its original size.
- Grill the Sandwich for two to three minutes on each side, until cheese it melted and bread is golden.
- When finished let you sandwich set so it isn’t too hot.
Media Noche Sandwich (Midnight Sandwich)
Makes four sandwiches
- 4 sweet bread rolls, they are the size of half a sub roll , yellow inside and are sold in Cuban Markets.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup prepared mustard
- 1 pound thinly sliced cooked sweet ham, make sure it has the sweet edges, this ham is commonly sold in Cuban markets
- 1 pound thinly sliced fully cooked pork (optional, I personally preferred it without the pork)
- 1 pound sliced baby Swiss cheese
- 1 cup dill pickle slices
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Split the sandwich rolls in half,
2. Spread mustard and mayonnaise liberally onto the cut sides.
3. On each sandwich, place and equal amount of Swiss cheese, ham and pork in exactly that order.
4. Place a few pickles onto each one, and put the top of the roll onto the sandwich.
5. Brush the tops with melted butter.
6. Press each sandwich in a sandwich press heated to medium-high heat. If a sandwich press is not available, use a large skillet over medium-high heat, and press the sandwiches down using a sturdy plate or skillet. Some indoor grills may be good for this also.
7. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, keeping sandwiches pressed. If using a skillet, you may want to flip them once for even browning. Slice diagonally and serve hot.
Elena Ruz (Cuban Turkey Sandwich)
Makes four Sandwiches
- Eight slice of white bread with crusts removed
- 4 to 5 ounces cream cheese softened at room temperature
- 4 ounces strawberry jam or guava jelly
- 8 ounces sliced turkey breast
- pinch of salt
- Cut crust from bread and lightly toast in a toaster, make sure bread is crisp but not brown.
- Spread a thin layer of softened cream cheese on one slice of bread and strawberry of guava jam on the other.
- Put turkey slice on the cream cheese covered half.
- Put the two slices together with the turkey inside.
- Slice diagonally
- Serve with French fries and enjoy.
These are three of the most popular Cuban sandwiches around. You will find these served in restaurants throughout parts of Little Havana and Miami. These sandwiches taste fantastic with either a fruit juice made from real fruit or a Mamey shake. Mamey shakes are sold in almost all establishments where Cuban sandwiches are served. For a slice of Cuba, try a one of these sandwiches with that special island flair, enjoy!