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"El Cubano!" The Almighty Cuban Sandwich & An Amazing Knife With Recipe

When I got cast to be on Emeril Lagasse’s show “Emeril Green,” it was based on his shock factor that a Cubana like me doesn’t eat pork. He was short for words, but he accepted my reasons for not eating it. Strictly religious. He still insisted on getting me to learn all about the hog and its “delicous” parts.

So we went on and taped and had a successful episode the night Planet Green (owned by Discovery Network) premiered. If you’ve not seen the episode, you can see it here in its entirety (w/out commericals).

I’ve not touched pork since cooking with Emeril. He’d be so disappointed because he really thought he converted me. After all, the hamhock beans I made were damn good. Yes, I did taste them and yes I said so on camera.

Nothing’s really changed in my pork eating life. I don’t do swine and interestingly enough, none of my clients have ever requested a pork menu option. Don’t know if it’s luck or they just don’t want me messin’ with it. Either way, ‘Thanks clients for not asking!’

Since it’s well established, well beyond words that I don’t eat anything from the “roota to the toota,”, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least talk about the beloved and one of the world’s most famous sandwiches: El Cubano or the The Cuban Sandwich. Saturated, packed and oozing with pork and ham, this sandwich has made it’s way into many a cultures and into many non-Cuban bellies.

Except mine.

Even yesterday when I made it!

The History of the Cuban Sandwich.

There are so many accounts on the genesis of the sandwich, but there is always only one truth, right! I’ve heard it originated in Tampa. Wrong. Way wrong. Borderline insulting. Sorry Bucks. El Cubano was created in Cuba back in early 1900’s.  Pork, being the cheapest and most available meat on the island, explains the protein basis. It was however, popularized in Tampa back in the early part of the same  century by factory (fabric and cigar) workers that traveled to and from La Habana to Florida. It was easy to travel then and the sandwich is what the daily workers would pack with them. Havana and Santiago de Cuba were the two cities where you could readily find the sandwich– offered in cafeteria’s, corner bakeries and served at home for lunch.

In Tampa, most restaurants use Genoa Salami for the ham portion–a reflection of the Italian influence in Ybor City.

Any Cuban will debate you on how to make a Cuban Sandwich. There are varities, as with everything, but an original Cuban sandwich only requires bread, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard (butter is optional). NO REAL sandwich will ever have mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion, etc… it’s an essence a delectable and gourmet ham and cheese sandwich. The sandwich is always eaten right off the press.

A Media Noche is a variant of the Cuban Sandwich, which I’ll indulge you with at another time.

Making a Deliciously Perfect Sandwich

I was determined to experience the hype for myself; even if it was just about going on the hunt for fresh pork meat and selecting the perfect sliced ham.  Wait, let’s be clear here. I DID grow up around this sandwich, and have in utter amazement,  watched and heard adults groan when they bite into this delicia… I’ve seen many sandwich shops in Miami with Star Trek type lines for a sandwich and un cafecito. The best ones are always found in loncherias or rapiditos (Cubanized fast food joints)

In D.C., few places offer el Cubano, and even less posts in Atlanta can claim making an original and authentic sandwich. Some of my friends rave about a certain Cuban spot having the best one in town; but I can’t speak to it. I can assume it’s pretty good if a 1st gen Cuban is making it. Because I’ve been asked for so long to make one (I think as a stealth test of my true Cubanism), I finally decided to take a stab.

I called my friends over at Jim-n-Nick’s BBQ restaurant (an awesome place for smoked brisket and the birthplace of my own cocktail) and asked the owner for some fresh smoked roasted pork, one of the main ingredients in the sandwich. I rolled on over there in flip flops and a very Havana-esque mini dress (totally ironic) and he excitedly greeted me and immediately took me into the kitchen.

This guy! He pulls out a piping hot shoulder and starts “schooling” me on their smoking process. 18 hours of slow-cooking in the pit. I don’t know what it tasted like, but the look of it sure made it tempting to pull with him! He pulled the charred skin back, grabbed the rendered fat off, pulled out the big chunks of bone and started pulling the meat.

The juice was just squirting out and intoxicating my senses. I swear if I ate pork, I would have eaten half that thing. Look at how pretty that meat looks!

No lie. Pretty and aromatic. He tells me they season it with paprika, garlic powder and a few other spices and herbs. I wasn’t planning on getting a 20-minute session on smoking and pulling pork, so I didn’t have my camera on me.

I happily left the joint with about 20 oz. of freshly pulled pork. SCORE.

Picked up Cuban bread, mild semi-soft Jarslberg Swiss cheese (which is amazing–and I hate Swiss) and Boar’s Head Black Forest smoked ham and Kosher pickles—all the necessary elements of el sándwich Cubano.  I would have made my own bread, but I was so anxious to get this thing done, buying a loaf was the way to go. Plus, the local market has an original recipe (I’ve seen it!) and it’s good.

You know I wasn’t going to eat the sandwich, so I called my friend Chieu to come over and watch me make it; and play taster, too. She’s a major foodie and just happens to be an incredible photographer….

I mise’d everything and went to work. This is when I get to play. I’d been waiting to pull out my spankin’ new bread knife by New West Knife Works to specifically cut into this thick loaf. The sharpness of the cuchillo is to be reckoned with. Sheesh. I’ve worked with a number of phenomenal knives, but this Japanese style beast couldn’t have yielded cleaner cut sections of the bread. Needless to say, the knife if perfect for carving, too.

Had I been adventurous enough to cut my own whole hog, I would have easily used the knife to do the trick.

The fascination with the sandwich is two fold: where it originated and the on-going debate among any Cuban on how to make it right. At the end of the day, the trick on making a really good sandwich befalls on how you grill it.  It has to be pressed using a plancha, or grill press. Timing, as with most foods, is of the essence. The pressing allows for the bread to toast with pretty grill lines and for the juices and flavors of the pork, ham and cheese to infuse without burning or dyring out the meats. You definitely want to melt the cheese, so ensuring each side is grilled long enough, is key. Another key point is the pressure of the press. Ultimately, you want the sandwich to become a panini of sorts, being flattened thinner than when you first started out…

Surprisingly, I don’t have a plancha, though I was going to buy one just for this rare occasion, but I decided to go all out Cuban style and get creative. I have tons of brick laying around–a perfect weight. I wrapped it in foil and used that as my “press”  on my stovetop grill.

Lastly, cutting your 8″-10″ sándwich into two diagonal pieces is what you will lust over.

Chieu kindly photographed as I pressed, sliced and plated.

I watched her eyes open and slowly bite into her first ever Cuban sandwich, which by the way was made my style (a special mustard mix and buttering method). She took the other half to her husband and in exchange shared her awesome shots (denoted with her watermark).

For the full recipe and step by step instructions on how my make this beautiful and DELICIOSO take on a Cuban sandwich, you’ll have to tune into my weekly column on Latina.com on Tuesday, June 15th, where I’ll share the secrets! For now, feast on the pictures and the slideshow below. Pretend you’re eating this sandwich with a gorgeous fedora, a stogie and a nice, robust shot of Cuban espresso!

You can’t get any more Cuban than this!

* side note: because I don’t eat pork, I’m so excited to get creative and start making new versions of the popular sandwich, something I hear is already happening in Paris! Stay tuned for those culinary creations.

* all pictures with the Chieu Lee Photography stamp (and mine) were taken by her awesomeness. All others and with my mark only, were shot by me! Slowly, but surely, I’m getting there!! 🙂 People like Chieu make it fun to learn how to use my new Nikon D5000! Thanks, girlie.



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The Almighty Cubano Sandwich


  • 8″ Cuban bread
  • 1.5 tbsp. mustard
  • 5 oz. smoked or roasted pork
  • 3 oz. sweet cured ham ( Black Forest is a good option)
  • 4 slices of sandwich pickles
  • 3-4 thin slices Swiss cheese
  • Butter for spreading outside of bread and grill pan


Using a bread knife, cut Cuban bread in half. Spread mustard on each side of bread. Start stacking. Add cheese and 2 pickles on each side.  Add pork on one side and top with ham. Place other half of bread on top of stacked side. Using a stove-top grill pan (unless you have a plancha), butter the grill pan and both sides of the sandwich using a pastry brush. Turn heat to medium. Use another heavy kitchen utensil (a foil-wrapped brick is a great option), press down on sandwich, and cook sandwich one each side for 5-6 minutes, allowing the flavors from the cheese, pork and ham to infuse and for the sandwich to flatten down ¾ from its original size.

Cut sandwich diagonally. Serves 1 or 2.

0 thoughts on “"El Cubano!" The Almighty Cuban Sandwich & An Amazing Knife With Recipe

  1. Fantastic post! I can’t believe you didn’t even try a nibble of that fabulousness (okay – I really can). Sorry I missed it! Thanks for the background info – I didn’t know all that.

    Chieu’s photographs are amazing. I like her watermark on the pic (heeee). How great to have someone there for the action shots.


  2. Estoy de Tampa. El Cubano está de la ciudad de Vicente
    Martinez Ybor. No hay duda para mí.

    And, alas, that just about exhausts my Spanish. I can read it fairly well, but… Despite the Tampa/Miami rivalry about internal ingredients (and that island place, too), it’s the bread. Same with the New Orleans po’boys. It’s the bread. Each locale’s wild yeast is different. San Francisco is known for its sourdough, but the same process yields Cuban bread and others. They’re just different. (And yes, I have some local starter going. Still learning how to work it into good bread.)

    I remember the bread from la Segunda Central. An elementary school teacher took us there on a field trip long, long ago. A long loaf shattered over my handlebars while I biked home, but I still remember the bakery: large oven rotating long loaves and palmetto fronds turning crispy brown when the loaf is done. In hindsight, I wish I had followed my senses rather than my reason and learned much more. In the same trip, she showed us the abandoned ruins of her elementary school in Ybor. An amazing teacher. Once the “war on drugs” began in “earnest” down there, swaths of Ybor were razed. Funny how the current commercial, tax-paying dens in Ybor aren’t busted as often, but I’m wandering away from the point…

    The best Atlanta place (Kool Korners?) moved to Birmingham, AL for family reasons. But that’s what I’ve heard from the Miami representatives… They still consider organizing a massive road trip. I wasn’t here to try those sandwiches, and I haven’t dared sample a Cuban sandwich from other places. I know it won’t be exactly what I remember. I don’t know if anything can be, just as I can’t figure out quite the right black beans & rice. But I do know Papi’s Midtown has some good fried plantains.

  3. oye ahora si te la comiste eso se ve delicioso me dan ganas de estar en miami comiendome uno .pero ese se vemuy rico FELICIDADES

  4. guapa! aunque yo tampoco como cerdo de manera regular, puedo decir que este sandwichito cubano se ve buenisimo y MUY cubanisimo!.

    Pero te acompano con el cafecito cubanito 🙂


  5. Mmmhhh, that scrumptious sandwich would be very successful at me place! I’m drooling…



  6. Bren, you HAVE to eat pork, just for this occasion – how could you deny yourself this? 😉 Looks delish, could eat it now for brekkie.

    Curious, I’m wondering how pickles ended up in the Cuban sandwich?

  7. Chris: Girl you know I wouldn’t even dare take a bit. I was sooo tempted tho, let’s not get it twisted! Chieu is great and I recommend her anytime!

    Jason: I love your zest and passion for food; your knowledge too, is great. I’ve actually learned a thing or two about different global things. You’re right-it’s all about the bread–the grilling and pressing time is so key; I;m going to make my own when I play around with a roasted turkey version of the sandwich. Stay tuned and come back! Oh, and I know the whole story behind Kool Korners. I’ll DM you a little secret about that place.

    Carol: Both, girl! Embrace them!

    Yaime: Ay, prima tenía un olor tan, pero tan rico; qué pena que no lo probé

    Heidi: totalmente Cubanisimo, mijo. Eso, un mojito y en cafesito describe muy bien una tarde tipica Cubana!

    Rosa: Yes it would! When ever I get an invite to your place in lovely Switzerland, I’ll glad make you plenty of them! 🙂

    Peter: Nah…. not all that big of a deal for me—I’ll just have to trust all of you! It sure does look great, though, right!! I’ll email you the history of the pickle! 🙂 Pretty interesting. I should have talked about it.

  8. Ms. B!

    Words cannot describe how depressed I am that I can’t get my hands on that sandwich.

  9. Photos are bite-worthy! Last Sandwich Cubano I had (and maybe the best) was at El Exquisito, Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), Miami.

  10. We have a great Cubano sandwich at a restaurant here in San Diego. I’ve been wanting to re-create it… on my to-do list of things to blog, yada yada yada! Talk about inspiration- yours looks so delicious!!

  11. AJ: well if we don’t keep missing each other when I come home, maybe we can exchange goodies!

    Joan Nova: thanks, lady! I know you can totally appreciate this sandwich being down there and so exposed to our culture!

    Lori: Girl do it. Now you know I did it and don’t even eat pork, surely you can! I’d love to see how you do yours!

    Val: Oh I’m sure you did girlfriend! I still love the fact that you’ve been to my island and love it so much! What else have you had there that you loved as much!?!

  12. The Cuban Sandwich was amazing! It was my very first! I think it took us two hours or something to actually make the sandwich because we were taking pictures of it the whole time!

    I had a lot of fun just spending time with Bren because she’s just normally so busy…so the Cuban Sandwich was a bonus for me! I’m glad everyone is enjoying the photos…it was hard to focus on “NOT” eating it. I can’t wait for next time!

  13. girl i didn’t know you were on emeril green! LOVE IT. you get around chica! you and your bad ass heels.
    well, the best cubano sammie was in miami of course. can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but you know that’s the place to be for a good one and apparently your place. LOL

  14. Jason la Segunda still makes the best Cuban bread in the United States. Bren you just took a classic sandwich and kicked it up a notch!!! Wow that looks good. I bet the smoky flavor of the pulled pork with the tartness of the pickels and mustard along with the sweetness of the ham and
    melted swiss chesse all on crunchy pressed bread made that classic sandwich even better!!

  15. I love cuban sandwich and I have many of them, your recipe, article and photos are great. I love your website and I love what you do. Go girl !!. See you soon.

  16. Bren we use both Genoa salami and ham on our Tampa Cubans. We like the Genoa with the specs of black peppercorn in it.
    Your pictures make me want to go buy a La Caja China and roast some mojo pork right now!! Smoke, salt, vinegar, cheese all great flavor combinations.

  17. Chieu Lee is AMAZING! Thanks Bren for the history on the origin of the Cuban Sammie. Now I can tell the owners of Cuban Deli on Ponce that they in fact DID NOT invent “The Cuban”!lol!

  18. Chieu: GIRL!!! I’m so glad you and D loved the sandwich! And, you’re right–it took us like two hours to shoot! B/W your professionalism and my wanna be better approach, we spent more time shooting than you eatig! Thanks for being so willing to have something for the 1st time. Not everyone is as open as you! Our next tryst?? SOOON!

    Vaniallasugar: sweetheart, you know how I do! Emeril–thought you knew about that! Too much fun. I hope you check out the episode and the actual post I wrote on it.. Please don’t tell me it was Versailled where you had a your best Cuban… Imma have to make you one!

    Gourmet Cook: Never heard of Jason la Segunda. Jason above seems to be familiar with it, too. I’ll have to try it next time I’m down South. And I told you earlier this evening, I’m going to make my own bread (and rock Publix’s one) when i make my roasted pulled turkey one!

    Carolina: ayy! Thanks Carol. That’s so special and truly keeps me inspired to continue cooking, writing and sharing!!

    Gourmetcook: OOOOH you soooo need a caja china. We have one and I need to blog about that, too. I had started a post on it, but didn’t finish it.

    Pieces of Arnania: Isn’t she though!?! Thanks for reading stranger!! It was SOOOO good seeing you and B… I hope you visit more often; and you MUST tell that place on Ponce they did not have anything to do with inventing the Cuban.

    Jenn: Right!!?!?

    Luis: Really!! What’s in it?

  19. I’ve had a cuban sandwich once or twice before but this one looks 10 times better. Does it usually have pickles on it? I love the idea! I want two of these!

  20. While in Havana a few years back I had a similar sandwich, but never knew it was called a Cuban. Through the years my love for pork has dwindled, but I still enjoy a good “stew” pork (A dish from Trinidad and Tobago) that’s simply amazing.

    happy cooking


  21. I’m witcha, sistah – I don’t eat it, either! And I live in Miami – surrounded by cafeterias and Cuban restaurants in which to indulge! I will admit it’s a gorgeous sandwich, and absolutely a cultural mainstay. Nice work!

  22. “I do not know why” there isn’t a good Cuban place up here that makes those.. or a bakery for the fact.. we need some good pasteles and sandwiches up in this area.. make it happen~!!

  23. While sandwich cubano is not exactly my cup of tea, this looks yummy and I wouldn’t mind sinking my teeth in one.
    Next you will have to do a post on Medianoche, and treat your readers to the nuances and differences between them.
    Great post! ( I still cannot wrap my head around the prices of those knives 🙁 Clearly, I’m not a kitchenware fashionista.

  24. It looks good, but just like you I don’t eat pork. I would love to hear about some other alternatives for the meat. Although if you do that you can no longer call it a cuban sandwich. Can you?

  25. I need someone to either send me a recipe for Cuban bread or open a bakery that makes it here in OH. The rest is a given will try. Have a great butcher shop that smokes meat.


    love ya Bren

  26. Really enjoyed reading about your Cuban sandwich adventure. It made my mouth water. I’ll be heading to a place in Cville that makes them and will let you know if it looked anywhere close as good as yours.

  27. Nick: well, thank you. wow. what a great compliment—I’ll take it. And yes, it always, always has pickles on it. I need to answer Peter’s question as to the history of the inclusion of it. Go make one, baby boy!

    Chris: I swear Caribbean folk make some of the absolute best food! I also had a great, great food in T & T!

    RJ: Girl, so you know… It was so tempting though… you know I’m working on variations… def. a cultural mainstay.

    Jonathan: Why you hang up on me when I tried to answer your question!! You know I’ll make it happen! Help!

    Paula: Girl you are more than welcome to come to ATL any day and taste for me! You know all about the knives!!

    David: I had NO idea it’s not your cup of tea. News to me. I will talk about the Medianoche next time; and even some variations of this sammy since I don’t do cerdo… I’m excited about what I come up with! I’ll indulge you!

    Dullah: working on all the alternatives I’ve thought of. I’m so glad so many of you have asked about them. I’m surprised you didn’t have this sandwich in Harlem…. and to answer your question: If I make it, no matter what version, then it’s Cuban by nature of whatever Cuban influence I add!

    Chef Julia: I have a recipe for you for cuban bread. have I promised you that previously!??! If so, do forgive for not sending sooner.

    Suzanne: Yes!! Like mouth-watering experiences I can create! Do let me know how the C’ville place did! I’m sooooo curious!

    Myles: Oh you know I’m already working on it. I’ve had like 6 requests for a non-pork version! Will keep you posted.

  28. As your new intern Im quite sure you know I have tons of work to do. But as I was slaving away at my work I found some time to nourish my mind, body, and spirit. When you fist brought out the famous cuban sandwitch I was kinda intimidated by the size but intrigued by the tasty aroma streaming from the sandwitch. I absolutely LOVE this sandwitch. The meat is perfectly seasoned, bread is delicious and flaky, and the pickles not only add to the visual appeal but they send a refreshing burst through your taste buds. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!!!!!

  29. Natasha: Girl, thank you! Really appreciate it! You’ll have to make this for your hubby once I publish the recipe on Latina.com next week!

    Katava: sooo glad you like it! Wasn’t sure how’d you handle it… it’s a lot for a 1st time Cuban food eater; but a great choice!

  30. WOW, great job!! looks delicious! Though I’m not one to eat pork, that sure does look delicious!! Nothing like an authentic cuban sandwich. I am often astounded at the fact that certain places claim to sell cuban sandwiches, i.e. panera.. Hey, but what do I know, I don’t eat pork so I wouldn’t know.. but your recipe and the outcome looks RIGHT ON POINT!!!

  31. That looks super yummy and next time you come to visit you better make me one! 🙂

  32. What can I add to this yummylicious Cuban Sandwiches??? I know!!!! I need a BIIIIIIIGGGGG mouth to chomp and empty, hungry stomach to fill in! Ohhhh and most important for me with such Mmmmmm..MMMMMMM… a LARGE Cuppa of..you guessed it..COFFEE!!! Tea won’t do with this one… just doesn’t seem right, isn’t it? 😛

    Now, I wonder how it will be if Sanglier/Wild boar instead of porc!?

    PS. I love Swiss Cheese…had even tasted Schabziger. Which i nicknamed “schwarzenegger” 😀

  33. Lil B: Panera and the likes make “cubans” because they’re so darn popular. But, you can only get a true “Cuban” at a Cuban person’s home or in Havana. Period. There are some Cuban owned whole in the walls where you will find a really good one; but like you sis, you know I don’t eat pork. Still glad I made it and someone else enjoyed!

    Amanda: You got it!

    Canika: Some people have asked me to make it with roasted pulled turkey. Working on that next.

    Pixen: Coffee: check. Swiss cheese: check. Malta drink: best option to drink alongside this sammy!!!

  34. Kevin!!! Where have you been!?! Good to see you on here. And yes, while I didn’t eat the sandwich, it’s always great fun making it. Smells so amazing, too!

  35. I would KILL for this sandwich right now. I think if you had my pernil I would be able to convert you. You up for the challenge?

  36. de veras que ese sandwich esta que dan ganas de sacarlo de la computadora y comerlo .que rico se ve yo creo que ni los que hacen en miami se ven tan ricos como ese felicidades

  37. I was just googling around about this when I found your post. I’m simply stopping by to say that I definitely enjoyed reading this post, it’s really clear and well written. Are you going to post more on this? It looks like there’s more depth here for future posts.

  38. Can I have this and the banana flan for Thanksgiving? I don’t think that is asking too much. Besos, mi amiga!

  39. Wow! This looks amazing and truly authentic. Looking at the pics makes you want to take a bite right out of my computer screen. The key is truly the mustard so why do people want to use Mayonaise? Uhh… I’m going to have to make one this weekend. Thanks for the memories. Delicioso!

  40. Wow! looks great..but I don’t eat pork!!! Might have to try this with some kind of vegetarian sandwhich meat!



  42. Had a great Cuban a long, long time ago while living in FL. It was a close to Miami as I was going to get that time, and I dare say this Cuban sammie was right on. I love the combination of mustard, butter and pickles more than the actual ham itself as ham is not my favorite meat. I say do a smoked turkey version!

  43. Sooooo happy that there is a turkey option. I have been wanting to make the Cuban sandwich for sometime and can’t because I too do not eat pork for religious reasons (SDA) so thank you…I can’t wait to make it!

  44. what a great webpage and cuban sandwich recipe…cant wait to try this out tonight! Beautiful profile as well.

  45. This looks delicious. Just returned from Miami. I am missing all the casera I had. Where can I find that and cuban bread in DC? Would love to see you open a traditional cuban restaurant in DC.

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