As far as food genres go, Cuban food is a bit underrated when it comes to comfort food. Italian, Mexican, even traditionally American dishes generally get all of the accolades in that category. Cuban food on the other hand, unless you are in an area that has a high concentration of Cuban American, is not that familiar to most.
But...it DEFINITELY should be!
Cuban Food is Comfort Food at Heart
At it's heart, Cuban food is all about slow cooked comfort food made to celebrate family. In that sense, it's not much different than Sunday dinners at your Nonna's house or any other large family gatherings where food is the vehicle of celebration.
Whereas each nationality may have it's roots in comfort food, life is not always conducive to sitting around for long hours chit chatting with the fam. More often than not, you'll need a delicious dish to eat on the go.
Enter the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano as it is often called. It is a glorified ham and cheese sandwich but better. Filled with plenty of pork, ham, pickles, cheese and then pressed the Cubano defines all that is good in this world.
The Cuban Sandwich is The Perfect Après-Ski Food
If you haven't had one, you need to. The Cuban Sandwich is a gift from above. It also happens to be the perfect apres-ski food. Quick and comforting, it's the perfect grab and go. Scarf it down at lunch with a craft beer and you'll be back on the mountain in no time. When you finish for the day savor all its porky goodness a bit longer as you linger and chat with your friends in true apres-ski food comfort style.
Traditionally the Cuban Sandwich is made with roast pork, ham, swiss, mustard and pickles. However, my world of apres-ski food is all about inspiration. Right before our quarantine hit, I had a pork belly sandwich while eating at a ski resort for lunch. There is no world where anything with pork belly can be bad, so I thought to myself why not swap out the roast pork in a Cubano for pork belly?
My Pork Belly Cubano Recipe is Born
Boom! My pork belly Cuban Sandwich was born. I also used mustard on one side of the bread and mayonnaise on the other half. This is a bit of a rif on the Miami Cubano which tends to swap out mustard for mayo. However, I like the taste of mustard and it works so well with pork so going with a little of both just makes sense.
Trust me, it's worth it! My wife took one bite and said it was the best thing she's ever eaten. Now you can make your very own. Give this après-ski food recipe a try and let me know what you think in the comments section below.
Pork Belly Cuban Sandwich Recipe
For the Smoked/Roasted Pork Belly:
1 pound of pork belly
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of orange juice
1 tablespoon of lime juice
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
For the Sandwich:
Smoked Pork Belly
Sliced Dill Pickles
4 Cuban Sandwich Rolls
- For the pork belly, combine the olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, salt, cumin and paprika. Whisk together in a bowl. Then pour the marinade into a plastic zip lock bag with the pork belly. Let it sit for at least a half hour or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Heat up your pellet smoker on high smoke for 15 minutes or your oven to 250 degrees. Salt and pepper both sides of the pork belly. Place pork belly directly on the grates of the smoker. Let sit on high smoke for at least 15 minutes. Then turn the smoker temperature up to 250 and cook for another hour and 45 minutes. Remove the pork belly from the grates and wrap in tin foil. Return to the smoker and let cook at the same temperature for another hour to tenderize the meat. Remove the pork belly from the smoker and let rest for at least an hour if not longer. You want it to firm up again prior to using it in the sandwich.
- Cut the pork belly into three inch long strips. Heat a cast iron skillet or flat top with some butter or oil. Place the pork belly on the hot surface and sear each side so that the outer edges are crispy. This will give you a crunchy texture on the outside but still soft on the inside.
- Time to start building your sandwich. It's all about the layers. Slather mustard on one side of your sliced Cuban roll and mayo on the other side. Place the pork on the bottom half of the roll. Then put your sliced pickles on top of the pork belly and cover them the Swiss Cheese. This will melt the cheese over the pickles and keep them secure in your Cubano. Finally top the Swiss with your slice of ham and close the sandwich.
- If you have a panini press this is definitely your best option and go ahead and heat that up. Spread more mayonnaise on the outsides of the sandwich as if you were making a grilled cheese. This serves as the fat that creates the crispy texture on the outside of the sandwich. Close the press and cook until the cheese has started to melt. Once you see that happening, remove the sandwich from the heat, slice on the bias and serve.
- If you don't have a press, a flat top or cast iron pan will work as well. Heating the flat top, follow the steps from step number 5. However, while the sandwich is on the flat top, place a large pan (preferably the cast iron skillet) on top of the Cubano to push it down and flatten it. Once that side is golden brown flip using a spatula and flatten again with the cast iron pan. When both sides are golden and the cheese has begun to melt, remove and serve.