I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Florida for a long-overdue graduation party. Generally, while I’m visiting family in the Tampa Bay area, I try to grab some authentic Cuban food – Sandwich Cubano and Black Beans and Rice. This time, though, our time was at a premium and we just didn’t have the time to indulge our craving.
When I got home, I knew that I would be searching my cookbook collection for a recipe that would satisfy my taste-buds. Thank goodness for Mark Bittman. Once again he came through, although this time it was his The Best Recipes in the World that I turned to. There was a recipe for Cuban Sandwiches in How to Cook Everything, but I knew by looking at it that it wasn’t authentic (it called for pork or ham, but not both).
Now, I rarely do anything the easy way, so I will tell you right now that you certainly don’t have to bake your own bread for these sandwiches, nor do you need to slow cook your pork. You could even use canned black beans instead of dried. The recipe wouldn’t be as inexpensive, but you could certainly take these easier routes to a delicious end product.
I started with Bittman’s recipe for Black Beans with Garlic and Cumin. I loved this recipe, because it’s done in one pot. I didn’t even soak the beans beforehand – just threw everything into one pot and let it cook for about 3 hours. The end product was extremely flavorful. I took one pound of dried black beans, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1/2 medium onion, and a tablespoon of ground cumin, covered it all with water and let it come to a boil. I reduced the heat to a simmer and let it go. When the beans were tender, I added salt and pepper to taste. The recipe called for epazote, which I didn’t have, so I omitted it.
I used a recipe I already had for the pork in the sandwiches. I’d made cuban sandwiches once before, and found a recipe online that I really like. It calls for you to cook your pork (2-3 pound shoulder) in a mixture of orange juice (2/3 cup), lime juice (1./3 cup), onions (2 medium – quartered), garlic (2 cloves, crushed), cumin (1 tablespoons) and bay leaves (2).
Bittman’s recipe calls for the pork to be roasted and sliced, but I chose to shred mine. Flavor-wise, it’s very similar, this just allows for a more tender end-product.
The pork gets cut into one-inch cubes, and all of the ingredients are put in a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook 1-2 hours, until meat is tender. Remove the meat from the cooking liquid and shred it with a fork. Remove the bay leaves and return the meat to the pot. Turn the heat up to high and cook it at a rapid boil until the liquid is reduced and the meat starts to brown.
I had some ham in my freezer that I had cooked over the holidays. I let this thaw and come to room temperature and used this as my second meat in the sandwich.
To be truly authentic, I should have baked Cuban bread, but I just didn’t have time. If you’ve ever had true Cuban bread, you’ve probably noted that it has a slightly sour flavor profile. This is achieved by creating a sponge and letting it cure before mixing your dough. If I’d been willing to wait until Tuesday to eat this meal, I would have readily done this. However, I’m kind of an instant-gratification girl, so I chose to bake a French baguette instead. This recipe I will cover at a later date, but suffice it to say it’s super simple and I highly recommend it.
The sandwiches consist of bread, butter, pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and mustard. They are pressed and grilled until the cheese melts and the bread is brown and crispy.
The final results were as good as anything I could have gotten in Florida, and probably a lot less expensive. Not to mention that I have leftovers and can make this meal again if I want to.
One 6- to 8-inch loaf Cuban, French or Italian bread
Butter for the bread
Several thin slices roast pork
Several thin slices ham
Several slices Swiss cheese
Sliced dill pickles
1 tablespoon butter if needed
1. Cut the bread in half the long way and butter it. Layer with pork, ham, cheese and pickles. Spread with mustard. Top with the other half of the bread and squash the sandwich with your hand.
2. Use a sandwich press or put 1 tablespoon butter in a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it melts, add the sandwich and weight it with a plate or something heavy – a filled teakettle, a big rock, some cans, whatever. You really want to squash the sandwich. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until lightly browned, then turn and brown the other side. Lower the heat if necessary so the cheese melts before the bread becomes too browned.
3. Cut in half on the diagonal and serve.
Black Beans with Garlic and Cumin
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and picked over
Several fresh epazote sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried, optional
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon ground cumin, or to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup minced onion
1. If time allows, soak the beans overnight or for several hours in water to cover, then drain. (If not, proceed, but expect cooking time to be somewhat longer.) Combine with water to cover in a pot over medium-high heat. When the mixture boils add the epazote if you’re using it, crushed garlic, and cumin, partially cover, and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers steadily. Cook, stirring infrequently, until the beans are tender and most of the water is evaporated, at least an hour and probably more; add water as necessary to keep the beans covered.
2. When the beans are tender, add salt, pepper, more cumin if you like, and the minced garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes, then stir in the onion. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.