Make Ahead

The Cuban

October  4, 2022
6 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 4 hours
  • Makes 4 good-sized sandwiches
Author Notes

I’m fairly certain this sandwich would never have happened, had I not married my husband nearly 39 years ago. You see, he’s from Tampa, Florida, where they make a killer Cuban sandwich. I’d never even heard of a Cuban sandwich before he took me there for the first time. You can get them everywhere in Tampa. Mine’s a bit different. Let me explain. (This is where the “made with love” bit comes in . . . .).

Years ago, when my boys and their cousins were little, my parents started hosting an annual beach week on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. My mother would prepare for beach week every year by roasting a turkey and a ham shortly before they’d drive down from Northern Virginia. A week or so in advance she’d make an enormous batch of pulled pork, which she’d freeze and bring, along with all kinds of other family favorite treats. Everyone looked forward to that pulled pork. One year, when I commented on how much work my mother had done, getting ready for the beach, she simply said, “It’s a labor of love, dear. I enjoy every minute of it.”

In time I started making pulled pork, too, eventually taking a sharp turn south from the simple vinegar based pulled pork of Eastern Carolina, to incorporate the flavors of a “Cuban adobo” herb and spice blend inspired by a blend suggested by Jerry Traunfeld in one of his books on cooking with herbs. It was only a matter of time before I started making Cuban sandwiches with my Cuban adobo-rubbed pork. And “made with love” this sandwich certainly is. Whenever I make pork shoulder for my boys, we talk about my mother, and the wonderful times we had with our extended family at the beach.

The Cuban sandwich brings back fond memories of our trips to Boca Grande (via Tampa) with the boys’ other grandmother and their cousins on my husband’s side. This sandwich brings together both sides of our family, reminding us all of the love we shared in our gatherings with each. ;o)

P.S. Now that my boys are grown, when we get together and I have planned and prepared many of their favorite things to eat, someone invariably thanks me for that. To which I always reply, “It’s a labor of love, dear, and I enjoy every minute of it.” ;o)

Test Kitchen Notes

AntoniaJames is a master at balancing flavors -- The Cuban is another example of her innate sense for how to blend spices and herbs. Her recipes are well written and so easy to follow. The pork shoulder is fall-off-the-bone tender and perfectly spiced. When I put it all together on a roll (I made her recipe for cuban rolls) with the ham, swiss, pickles, mustard and mayo, smeared it with butter and grilled, the sandwich was a marriage made in heaven. This is the best Cuban sandwich I have ever had. I recommend that you drop everything and make this sandwich: it's just that good. - sdebrango —sdebrango

What You'll Need
  • The Cuban
  • 4 good Cuban sandwich rolls (I posted a separate recipe for these here on food52.)
  • 1 pound roasted and sliced Cuban Adobo Roasted Pork Shoulder (recipe is below)
  • 4 - 6 generous slices good Swiss cheese
  • 4 - 6 ounces finely sliced Black Forest or similar deli ham
  • Mayonnaise to taste
  • Four half-sour pickles, thinly sliced
  • Hearty brown mustard (I like a coarse mustard with horseradish)
  • Cuban Adobo Pork, Braise Roasted
  • 1 3-pound pork shoulder
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 ½ - 2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I like Malabar) or white pepper
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 1 – 2 cups of chicken stock, heated
  • 3 or 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks (strictly optional, but nice to serve with the sauce)
  1. The Cuban
  2. Heat panini press or other top and bottom grilling device for sandwiches.
  3. Slice the rolls lengthwise and spread one side with mustard and the other side with mayonnaise.
  4. Layer the ham, cheese, pork and pickles in whatever order you like. Press the two sides together.
  5. Cook in the panini press until the grill lines are dark brown and sandwich is nice and warm.
  6. Enjoy!! ;o)
  1. Cuban Adobo Pork, Braise Roasted
  2. Score the pork shoulder a few times about ¼ inch deep on each side.
  3. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with the salt to make a paste. Add the cumin and sage leaves and pound a fe times to mix it into the garlic and salt. Add the pepper and the olive oil and stir to combine.
  4. Rub the herb paste all over the pork should and into the crevices. Some people like to tie their pork shoulders up, but I generally don’t, as I find you get more crispy bits that way. You certainly may, if you wish.
  5. Put the roast in a bowl you can cover or a lidded glass storage container and refrigerate for at least six hours or, preferably, overnight. Bring the meat to room temperature for about an hour before roasting.
  6. Preheat the oven the 375 degrees.
  7. Put the onion slices in a braising pan or Dutch oven. Put the meat in on top of that. Cook for about 20 minutes, then add the stock. It should come up about ¼ of the way up the meat. If it doesn’t, add a bit of water.
  8. Cover and braise-roast for another hour, then turn the roast over. Add more stock or water if what you put in earlier has evaporated.
  9. Cook for another half hour, then turn the roast over again and add more liquid if necessary. The onions will have released quite a bit, but depending on how much space there is on the bottom of the pan, it’s not uncommon for the pan to dry out. Add the carrots now, if using.
  10. Return the roast, uncovered, for yet another half hour, then check the meat with a fork. It should be very tender and should pull apart easily. At this point, I usually flip the roast over again and cook it for at least another 15 – 20 minutes. For pulled pork, you want the internal temperature to be at least 180 degrees. I think 190 is better - the hotter it is, the more collagen has broken down, making the meat really luscious.
  11. Let the roast sit for at least 20 minutes after removing it, before slicing.
  12. The onions can be pureed with the pan juices, and more stock if you like, using an immersion or other blender, to make a nice sauce for the roast.
  13. Enjoy!! ;o)
  14. N.B. The photo showing a flatter sandwich with melted cheese was made with an earlier version of the Cuban sandwich roll I recently developed. I improved the shaping technique, using Mrs. Child's method for folding baguette dough into thirds. The other photo shows the improved roll, but shows pierino's Porchetta -- which worked really well in this Cuban --and not the adobo pork shoulder included here.
  15. NB: This braise-roasted pork shoulder shoulder recipe draws on the method Alice Waters uses in “The Art of Simple Food.”
  16. N.B. The prep time stated above does not include the resting time after you've rubbed the pork shoulder with the herb paste.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • luvcookbooks
  • drbabs
  • Abra Bennett
    Abra Bennett
  • AntoniaJames
  • gingerroot

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)

32 Reviews

luvcookbooks January 11, 2022
Love the story and hope to make the sandwich soon.:)
drbabs January 2, 2022
AntoniaJames, congratulations on being a finalist! This does look like a labor of love.
AntoniaJames January 3, 2022
Thank you, drbabs. You are so kind. ;o)
Abra B. September 12, 2011
I made this on Saturday, the whole shebang including the rolls, and my husband proclaims that his eternally unsatisfactory quest for the Cuban sandwich of his memory has finally come to an end. Thank you for this recipe!

I have a couple of tips - for the bread dough, use your stand mixer with the dough hook, it works perfectly, makes no mess, and you don't even need the extra flour. Also, if you don't have a sandwich press (as I don't) you can use a cast iron grill pan and weight the sandwich with a slightly smaller cast iron pan, pressing down firmly on the top pan. Works impeccably well.
AntoniaJames August 25, 2011
sdebrango, thank you so much for the wonderful EP review. I'm so happy that you liked this! I'm queuing up another Cuban adobo pork shoulder this weekend, with another batch of rolls, for my younger son to enjoy before he heads back to college next week. ;o)
gingerroot August 18, 2011
Late to this party, but these are no less amazing sounding or looking. Let me know when I should pack my bags...
AntoniaJames August 25, 2011
gingerroot, you're welcome any time! ;o)
wssmom August 14, 2011
Loved the recipe for the rolls, and am loving this!
AntoniaJames August 15, 2011
Thanks so much, wssmom! You are so kind. ;o)
mrslarkin August 13, 2011
This sounds truly amazing, AJ! By the way, I love both of those cookbooks!
AntoniaJames August 15, 2011
Thank you, mrslarkin. I learned of Traunfeld from a recent foodpickle post or perhaps in head note here. Both his books are inspired and interesting, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous. And "The Art of Simple Food" has become my go-to book for how to do it right. Chez Panisse enjoys the acclaim it does for good reason. ;o)
lorigoldsby August 11, 2011
AJ--can't wait to try this!
AntoniaJames August 12, 2011
Oh, I hope you do! Thanks so much. ;o)
Sagegreen August 10, 2011
I want to go to your fair! Love your use of sage, along with everything else!
AntoniaJames August 12, 2011
Thanks so much, SG! Yes, the sage is magical, simply magical in this recipe. Who would ever have thought to use it this way?! I don't know if Traunfeld thought it up, but whoever did is brilliant. ;o)
fiveandspice August 9, 2011
Those rolls look like they turned out wonderfully!! And the pork recipe sounds intriguing and delicious. I find I don't love sage most of the time either, but this looks like a good application!
AntoniaJames August 9, 2011
Thanks so much, F&S. You know, I'm not actually that crazy about either sage or adobo (though I'll be doing a lot more experimenting with fresh sage now), but I really like the two of them together, when cooked with pork. Isn't that interesting?! ;o)
lapadia August 9, 2011
This is absolutely an eye catcher, I can even smell the aroma through my monitor, oh and lovely buns, AJ!!
AntoniaJames August 9, 2011
Thanks, lapadia. You're so kind. ;o)
aargersi August 9, 2011
I'm comin' over. What time do you want me? :-)
boulangere August 9, 2011
Not without me you're not!
AntoniaJames August 9, 2011
You all are so funny! You're welcome, any time. Leftover pork roast is going onto soft "tacos" made with fresh-off-the-griddle roti tonight, along with a luscious avocado and dead ripe tomatoes. This may be the night that my son and I make a galette with the first-of-the-season Ginger Golds I bought at the farmers' market. This would be a great evening for you to join us! ;o)
hardlikearmour August 9, 2011
I'm fully on board for a road trip to AJ's! Especially if she'll take us hiking or running in the redwoods.
lapadia August 9, 2011
Oh wait a minute, can you hear me shouting down from up North...Cuban Sandwiches, Tacos, luscious avocado??....dead ripe tomatoes...
fiveandspice August 9, 2011
Don't leave without meeeeee!
AntoniaJames August 9, 2011
lapadia, you're welcome to join us, too! Mountain biking is an option in the same park, by the way. I'm out there before dinner, 5 or 6 days a week, nearly year-round, and deeply grateful for it. I've gotten pretty good to, at planning/executing my dinner prep, to fit in 1 1/4 hours out of the house during the 1 3/4 hours before our evening meal. ;o)
boulangere August 10, 2011
This is luscious beyond belief. And your rolls, perfection. We'll rent a limo at the airport and arrive en masse. Bringing the mountain bike.
AntoniaJames August 12, 2011
Oh, please, please do!! ;o)
boulangere August 9, 2011
AntoniaJames August 9, 2011
Thanks, boulangere!
hardlikearmour August 9, 2011
This is positively mouth-watering!
AntoniaJames August 9, 2011
Glad you think so, HLA! ;o)