Rethinking the Cuban Sandwich
Good pernil, succulent roast pork shoulder with crisp skin and lots of garlic, is the heart of the Cuban sandwich, and I wouldn't think of cutting its heart out, but surely we can do better in the ham department. I think every Cuban sandwich I've ever tasted was made with some pretty basic boiled ham, maybe Armour, or something cheaper. The ultimate Cuban sandwich deserves world-class ham, and for me Spanish jamón serrano is as good as it gets, prosciutto di Parma notwithstanding. And as long as we're in Spain, Manchego would certainly be a great improvement over the standard Cuban sandwich Swiss cheese--granted, I'm partial to sheep's milk cheeses.
Good, we've taken care of the meat and cheese, and we now have a Cuban sandwich that pays hommage to its colonial past.
Time to move on to the pickles. A Cuban sandwich wouldn't be a Cuban sandwich without sliced pickles. They add a crunch and flavor that goes very nicely indeed with the pork, ham and cheese. When I think of a great sandwich with pickles, however, the ne plus ultra is the Vietnamese bánh mì. So for the traditional pickles I'd substituteVietnamese-style julienned pickled daikon & carrots. And since we've entered bánh mì territory, let's not spare the aioli. Hell, no.
Sounds good, huh? Pernil, jamón serrano, Manchego cheese, Vietnamese pickled vegetables & aioli.
But what are we going to put it all on? Forget about the usual bland, bleached white flour French bread. Not after we've gone to all this trouble, certainly not. A nice, hearty, nutty Tuscan bread is more like it.
And, of course, we heat it in a press, like any Cuban sandwich (or bánh mì, for that matter) worth its salt.
The amazing thing is, though there's only one element left from the original recipe, you'll agree, I'm sure, that this potential sandwich is still, unmistakably, unquestionably, a Cuban sandwich.