If you’ve ever watched the movie Chef, you’ve probably had a craving for a real, perfectly made Cubano sandwich. The movie is a foodie’s dream, the Cuban sandwich is the star. It shows just how much work goes into the perfectly balanced, and uniquely delicious Cubano. After I watched Chef the first time, I’d never actually tasted a Cubano. I spend the next year or so tasting as many versions of the sandwich as I could before we jumped into to make our own.
We’ve been working through some of the best meals on the movie Chef, and here we are at the third of three posts based on Chef-inspired foods. So just in time for National Cuban sandwich day, we’re presenting the classic homemade Cuban sandwich, made with homemade Cuban bread. There will be several small recipes, including one for the bread, the marinade, and then a recipe for the mojo sauce for the roasted pork. This is not a complicated meal, but it does take some time to get everything ready, so let’s get to it.
In the movie, they don’t really show a lot of the ingredients, just the final assembly process of the sandwich. However, we did some research on traditional recipes and played around with ingredients and this is what we landed on.
The Cuban Bread
Let’s start with the Cuban bread. Now, you obviously can use store-bought bread, which we have always done in the past, but after some research, Cuban bread isn’t really that difficult. There is just one key ingredient you need: lard. That’s right, lard, which essentially just rendered fat from pork. This is what keeps the bread soft and fluffy, even after you throw it on the griddle to get a crispy crust.
Like most bread, you create a starter with yeast, water, and flour and let that sit overnight. Once the starter’s ready, add to a mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients and use the dough hook to mix while adding approximately 3.5 cups of flour. Mix for about 10 minutes and add additional flour as needed so that the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl. Remove hook and let the dough rise until double in size, about 1.5 hours. Keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying out the dough.
One doubled, punch it down again for a second rise, which should take about an hour to double. Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Once doubled, cut your dough ball into 2 or 3 three pieces, depending on how big you want the loaves to be. Fold your pieces lengthwise and shape them into long tubes. I ended making three pieces to ensure it would fit in our oven.
Quick history note: traditionally, the spine of a palm leaf is placed over the center of the loaf before baking to create a break line for the bread. Obviously, most people will not have access to palm leaves, so the easy alternative is to use some twine. Don’t use synthetic twine, it’ might melt in the oven. We used cotton twine, cut to lengths a little longer than the loaves and soaked in water for a few minutes. Lay the twine on top and flip the loaf over for about 20 minutes. Once done, flip back over and bake for 20 minutes. Your loaves should be a light golden brown and soft to the touch when you pull them out.
For the ham portion of the sandwich, we chose to use store-bought ham. But for the roasted pork, we decided to go all out and do both a marinade and mojo sauce for the rub. So, let’s start with the marinade, which will require the pork to sit overnight, so plan ahead. Start by trimming excess fat from the pork shoulder but leaving the fat cap and scoring it all over with a knife. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a large bowl and set the pork in the bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
The Mojo Sauce
You can prepare the mojo sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator until ready to use. Combine all the ingredients for the mojo sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. You’ll end up with a really cool, bright green sauce that looks and smells amazing.
After the pork has marinated, remove it from the bowl and wipe off any large bits of herbs and place it in a clean bowl. Pour the mojo sauce over the pork and massage it for a minute, making sure to coat the entire shoulder. Once done, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
When ready, preheat the oven to 350 °F. Remove the pork from the sauce and let any excess drain for a few seconds. Place it on a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and cook for about 2.5 hours. You want the internal temperature to reach 165 °F at the thickest part. Ours started to get brown on the edges about 2 hours in and checking the temperature verified that it was done. Remove your pork shoulder, let it rest for 30 minutes and slice when ready. You can also put your pork shoulder in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
So now it’s time to finally put all your hard work together into a crispy, savory sandwich that we all know and love. Start by slicing your pork shoulder, if you haven’t already. Get your ham, swiss cheese, and pickles ready too, if they aren’t already sliced. Cut your bread into the lengths you prefer, slice in half horizontally and grab the butter and mustard.
I start by frying all the ham and roasted pork in a pan with a little oil to get them lightly browned. Set those next to the rest of the ingredients and warm up your pan or griddle (or a plancha grill if you’re super fancy!). We are fortunate to have a griddle on our stove, but a large pan would also work. Spread some butter on the inside of your bread and place on the griddle to brown. Once brown, pull off the griddle and start layering your ingredients.
I start with the roasted pork, then the ham, cheese, and then some pickles. I spread the mustard on the top piece and place it back on to complete the sandwich. Spread some more butter on top and place that side down on the griddle. While it’s cooking, spread a little more butter on the exposed side and place something heavy on the sandwich. I like to use our cast iron pan, which is just heavy enough to partially flatten the sandwich but not too much. Grill for 2-3 minutes, check for the desired color, then flip the sandwich and grill the other side. Once done, move the sandwich to a cutting board, cut it on a bias, and enjoy!
- 1/2 tsp Instant dry yeast For the starter
- 1/4 cup cool water For the starter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour For the starter
- 1 cup cool water
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1.5 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp lard
- 1.5 tsp Instant dry yeast
- 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
- For the starter: Combine the first 3 ingredients in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 12 hours.
- For the dough:
- In a mixing bowl, add the water, salt, sugar, lard, and yeast.
- Add the starter from before and mix well.
- Add about 3.5 cups of flour and mix with a dough hook for 10 minutes.
- Add flour as needed so that the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl.
- Remove the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until doubled, about 1.5 hours.
- Punch down the dough ball, and let it double again, about 1 hour.
- Cut dough into 2 or 3 pieces and roll into tubes.
- Place wetted twine on top of the dough, flip over and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400 °F
- Flip dough over and place on baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes.
Roasted Pork Marinade
- 4 cups orange juice
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup spiced rum
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 head garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2 stems fresh oregano, roughly chopped
- 2 stems fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
- 2 stems fresh thyme, roughly chopped
- 2 stems fresh sage, roughly chopped
- 3 leaves bay leaf
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
- Place pork shoulder in the bowl and ensure it's submerged in the marinade.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 oranges, juiced and zested
- 6 limes, juiced and zested
- 2 stems fresh oregano, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp pepper
- 2 tbsp cumin
- Combine all ingredients in a blender.
- Blend until smooth.
- Mojo sauce can be stored overnight until ready to use.