The Cuban sandwich, or Cubano, is one of our favorite high-low recipes. While you can pick up most of the ingredients (sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, yellow mustard) from any deli, you’ll only reach sandwich nirvana if you roll up your sleeves and make the key ingredient, juicy roast pork, yourself. (In other words, don’t be like that kid in Chef who tells his dad “You could have just bought that at the store.”) It also helps to seek out real pan Cubano, the squishy, lard-enriched bread that achieves a crackling crust when slathered with butter and griddled.
Our version of the Cubano eschews the panini press and instead utilizes two cast iron skillets: one for roasting the pork, then both for pressing the sandwich.
If you can’t find pan Cubano, a soft French or Italian loaf will work almost as well, as will a hoagie roll.
Save leftover pork shoulder for breakfast tacos the next morning.
Where the Cubano originated is a topic of intense debate, but the version from one of its purported birthplaces, Tampa, also includes Genoa-style salami in addition to the ham.
When pressing the sandwich, don’t be gentle: You really need to push down on the top skillet to get that almost-flat profile that defines the Cubano.
For the pork shoulder:
Zest and juice of 1 medium orange
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
For the sandwiches:
Two 8-inch Cuban sandwich loaves (or other soft white sandwich roll)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
6 slices Swiss cheese
6 slices black forest ham
½ cup sliced pickles
In a large bowl, combine the orange zest and juice, lime zest and juice, salt, oregano, cumin, light-brown sugar, olive oil, and garlic, and whisk to combine.
Pat the pork shoulder dry with paper towels, then add to the bowl with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight. If the pork shoulder isn’t submerged in the marinade, be sure to flip it over every few hours.
Preheat the oven to 275˚F. Fold a three-foot piece of aluminum foil in half and use it to line a No.8 (10 ¼”) skillet. Place the pork shoulder, along with the marinade, onto the foil and wrap it so that the pork is completely sealed.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 3 hours. Carefully open the foil, being sure to not let any of the braising liquid spill out. Continue roasting, uncovered, for 2 hours, until the pork shreds easily with a fork.
Place the pork shoulder on a cutting board and discard the marinade. Use two forks to shred the pork into bite-size pieces.
Slice the Cuban sandwich loaves in half lengthwise. Spread 1½ tablespoons of butter on the outside of each roll. Spread 1½ tablespoons of yellow mustard on the cut-side of each roll.
On the bottom half of each roll, layer half of the Swiss cheese, ham, shredded pork, and pickles. Place the other half of the roll on top.
Heat a No.10 (11 ⅝”) skillet over medium-low heat. Once the pan is warm, place the sandwich into the pan. Place a No.8 skillet on top of the sandwich, pressing it down firmly to flatten the sandwich. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Carefully flip the sandwich over, once again placing the No.8 skillet on top, and continue cooking for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
Slice the sandwiches in half and serve immediately.
Alexis deBoschnek is a recipe developer, host, and soon-to-be cookbook author who splits her time between Los Angeles and the Catskills in upstate New York.