Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rethinking the Cuban Sandwich

The last time I ate at El Gran Castillo de Jagua I pondered Cuban sandwich redesign. Not that there's anything wrong with the traditional Cubano, and El Gran Castillo makes one of the best, but still, I think there's room for improvement.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, i'll bite. My favorite Cuban Sandwich in New York is still to be found at Sophies at 73 New Street (between Broad and Broadway off Exchange Place in the Wall Street area). It's all about the green sauce. (Their uptown green sauce is not the same as in the original downtown restaurant. Just like the original Dojos sauce on St Marks Place is better than the over-onioned sauce made in their NYU-area location.)

1:50 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

I'll certainly keep that in mind next time I'm in the Wall Street area. But I don't get the green sauce thing. I'm not used to green sauces on Cuban sandwiches. Explain, por favor.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Rafael Martel said...

The best Cuban Sandwich is in Union City: Pan Con Todo.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pretty good cuban on corner of 135st and broadway near city college.i forgot the name of the place.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had a really disappointing Cuban sandwich recently on Cape Cod. The pork was pretty bland, although it did have excellent, crispy pickle slices.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best cuban sandwich in NJ is in a little place in Princeton NJ call Tico's eatery & juice bar, they call it Cuban Panini because they make it in Chibata bread, the owner Ammel (Tico) makes the cuban sauce himself and when I tell you is the best it is the best! this place is off the hook! fresh juices 100% natural made before your eyes, best Smothies in the area made w non fat no sugar frozen yogurt and 100% fresh fruit, Quesadillas MMMMM the Guacamole fresh made to order off the hook as well!

9:32 PM  

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