What could be better than a Cuban sandwich – you know, the pressed sandwich made with roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, served hot on Cuban bread — A smoked Cuban Sandwich made with smoked pork shoulder.
Hubs has a never ending Cuban Sandwich kick, experimenting left and right with various pork recipes to use in the sandwich. For the actual Cuban sandwich, the recipe is quite simple, but what a really good Cubano (as they’re often called) comes down to is the quality of ingredients used, especially the pork.
He first tried it the traditional way, with a marinade and roasted in the oven. The sandwiches came out great, but they weren’t authentically us (meaning they weren’t smoked).
Next time he smoked his pork butt the way he usually does (recipe here), but instead of pulling the pork, he sliced it into thick slices. The sandwiches were good, but I wasn’t feeling the thick cuts of pork. Maybe it was the texture? I wanted him to go back to our roots, meaning pulling the heck out of that delicious slow smoked pork. I find you get so much more flavor, moisture, and texture from pulling the meat vs. slicing.
Then he started marinating the meat in his Carolina inspired concoction, smoking the pork butt, and then pulling the meat.
So that’s the way we’ve been making them since. And I love them!
One thing we’ve discovered is that it’s all about the quality of ingredients (see the theme?)!
After going back and forth on Dijon vs. yellow mustard (the traditional mustard for a Cubano) I believe it truly comes down to your taste preferences. I’m a huge Dijon fan and love the spicy zing it brings to these sandwiches. But if you prefer the traditional taste of yellow, go for it. It’s your sandwich after all!
The next most important element, after the meat, is the pickles. Yes, the pickles! I can’t tell you how many jars of pickles we’ve gone through to find “the” one. We tried fancy artisan pickles, pickles from the farmers market, imported pickles. And you know what? My favorite pickles were the most generic of all. Regular dill pickles you can find at every grocery store from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Weird, right? But again, find a pickle that makes you happy and you’ll be happy with your sandwich. We find the best pickles are those with a white vinegar base and are not sweet.
We tried fancy rolls purchased at Whole Foods and New Seasons (the Portland equivalent of Whole Foods). We tried cheap ‘ol buns from the supermarket. But when we found these Banh Mi rolls purchased at a French Vietnamese Bakery near our house (true story), that’s when we finally made a breakthrough.
They are soft on the inside, but when coated with butter and cooked on the grill pan (or Panini press) they create the perfect crust crunch on the outside, soft and smooth on the inside. Yes please! Can’t find these? Go French Bread.
Bring all these elements together – the perfect tender smoked pulled pork, your favorite pickles, Dijon (or yellow) mustard, Swiss cheese, deli sliced ham, a little bit-a-butter, and the perfect bun – well, friends, you’ve got yourself a Smoked Cuban Sandwich.
Smoked Pork For Cuban Sandwich
We follow our smoked pulled pork recipe with one modification. We marinate the pork shoulder.
Cuban Sandwich Marinade Ingredients
- cups apple cider or apple juice
- cup apple cider vinegar
- cups orange juice
- orange sliced and zested
- tablespoons salt
- tablespoons whole peppercorns
How to Make a Cuban Sandwich Marinade
- Combine all ingredients except uncooked pork into a large dish or pot. Be sure to leave room to submerge the pork.
- Trim excess fat off of the pork shoulder leaving only a small fat cap on top (around ¼ inch).
- Score the meat with a large X across the top and bottom of meat to help integrate the marinade.
- Place pork inside the container with the marinade for up to 24 hours prior to smoking. If liquid doesn’t cover pork, flip half way through the marinade process.
Then smoke the pork as you would normally. If you prefer sliced versus pulled pork, pull the pork off when the internal temperature of the pork is 180 – 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
Smoked Pork Cuban Sandwich Recipe
Smoked Cuban Sandwich (aka Smoked Cubano)
- 1 french roll “Cubano” or “Bahn Mi” rolls work well
- 1 tablespoon Butter
- 2 tablespoons good Dijon mustard per sandwich
- 2 slices Swiss cheese 1 per side of sandwich
- ¼ pound pulled Smoked Pulled Pork
- 3 slices thin Black Forrest Deli Ham
- 1 medium sized dill pickle sliced thinly lengthwise
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Pork Shoulder Cuban Sandwich Marinade
- 3 cups apple cider or apple juice
- 2 cups orange juice
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 orange zested and quartered
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- Trim off most of the fat cap to the pork shoulder and score the shoulder with X marks along all the sides.
- Combine all marinade ingredients in a large stock pot and stir to incorporate. Place the pork shoulder into the stock pot. Cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If the pork shoulder floats, then flip it half way through the marinating process.
- Remove from marinade and smoke the pork shoulder using our smoked pork shoulder method. This is great to do a day in advance of making the sandwiches.
To assemble the sandwiches
- Preheat a cast iron skillet on medium/medium high heat. (Of course it’s easier with a Panini press, but we don’t have one of those!)
- Cut rolls in half, lengthwise, and butter both sides on the inside. Press down, buttered side, onto preheated skillet to get a light toast onto the inside of the roll. (About three minutes or until slightly golden). Remove from heat.
- On toasted roll start layering the sandwich.
- First apply the Dijon mustard to both sides of the roll.
- On the bottom roll layer with 1 slice of Swiss cheese (you may need to cut in half for the length of the sandwich), and then add ¼ lb pulled pork (from smoked pork above).
- Next add ham and sliced dill pickles, and then top with another slice of Swiss cheese.
- Finish by adding salt and pepper.
- Cover with the top of the hoagie roll, and then slather butter to the top and bottom of the roll
- Place sandwich onto the skillet and press with a heavy object like a cast iron pan. Add a can of tomatoes if more weight needed. Flip after five minutes and repeat by pressing sandwich with a heavy weight. Cook until the crust forms and the cheese is melted (about 4-5 minutes per side).
- Serve warm. The sandwich will press down flat and have a nice toast to it, the Swiss cheese on both sides melting act like a glue, so be sure it’s melted enough.
Wine Pairing for Smoked Cuban Sandwich
A Bold Pinot Noir
Oregon Pinot Noir is great. Or you can enjoy a Carneros (California) version. You’ll find more richness and power to the fruit. You want something that won’t overpower the subtle smokiness and juiciness from the pulled pork mingled with the melted Swiss cheese and salty deli ham, but you do want something with enough fruit and good acidity to stand up to the various flavors from the sandwich.
The natural acidity of most Oregon Pinot Noir will be a fine match to the mustard and the pickles. Steer clear of the more earthy Pinots from the Burgundy region for this dish. Stick to the fruity New World style.
Incidentally I also tasted these sandwiches with a most unlikely pairing, a Gewürztraminer. Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer (Sonoma Coast, California) is an option.
Or for a casual afternoon pairing try a dry rosé. I’m a huge fan of rosé and pork. The berry fruit and acidity will be a great match for these sammies.
Or, if all else fails, stick with a beer!
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