I think if I had to choose my favorite sandwich of all time, it would be a three-way tie between a meatball sub (a legit one made in an old deli somewhere along the Northeast Corridor), a cheesesteak wit’ whiz (FROM PAT’S IN PHILLY THERE IS NO OTHER OPTION I WILL NOT HEAR OF ANY OTHER CHEESESTEAKS), and a traditional Cuban sandwich.
There’s something so freaking satisfying to me about a hot sandwich. It doesn’t have to be a pressed sandwich, but the fact that a Cuban involves buttered, griddled bread certainly does not make me like it less. I’ve always loved a Cuban sandwich – really, what’s not to like? For starters, it involves not one, but two kinds of pork, and that’s a hook that’ll bring me back every darn time. It also involves my favorite sandwich cheese – Swiss, and when it comes to condiments, there’s not much I love more on a sandwich than hot mustard and sweet pickles. It really is one of the more perfect sandwiches out there, which is why my version doesn’t stray far from the classic at all.
For my riff on a Cuban sandwich, I need not do much more than set a slow cooker and make a quick trip to the store for what are usually pretty obtainable ingredients – mustard, pickles and cheese. The only element that can be a little tricky if you’re tryin to keep this sandwich really authentic is the bread. Technically, a Cuban sandwich should be made on Cuban bread. It’s a simple white bread, but it’s not always easy to find. It’s similar enough to Italian white bread that you could use a loaf of that without distorting the sandwich too much, but if you can’t find that, either, panini bread or even ciabatta will work in a pinch. The only other component of the sandwich that requires any real effort – and I hesitate to call it effort – is the pulled pork. You could buy some pre-made, of course, but I think slow-cooking it makes a really big difference here, plus – it’s easy to do. If you’ve got a slow cooker, some seasoning, and the will power to let the pork cook itself into tender oblivion without lifting the lid, you’ve got everything you need.
My last note regarding this recipe is just a reminder that with dishes like sandwiches, where every component is going to be tasted in every bite, and nothing can really hide, it’s nice to invest in high quality ingredients if that’s an option for you. Instead of deli ham that you get off the shelf, grab some thick sliced, slow-roasted stuff from the butcher – look for the pickles that look a little more like fresh cucumbers – they’re fresher and less school lunch-tasting than most kinds you’ll find at the store, and find good bread – it’s literally holding your meal together. With the right components, you can turn a simple sandwich into a seriously amazing meal. Here’s the recipe to get you started!
Traditional Cuban Sandwiches With Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
For the Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
- 1.5 lbs boneless pork shoulder roast
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp chili flakes optional
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/8 cup maple syrup
- 3/4 – 1 cup BBQ sauce any kind you like works
For the Cuban Sandwiches
- 4 rolls (or a loaf of bread) Cuban bread is traditional, but Italian bread, panini bread or even ciabatta will work here
- 8 slices good quality, thick-cut ham
- 8 slices good quality Swiss cheese cut extra long
- 8-12 pickle slices bread and butter or sweet and sour, not dill!
- mustard I like to use a combo of dijon and whole grain
- spreadable butter
Pop the pork into your slow cooker.
Combine all of the spices in a small bowl and stir to combine them thoroughly, breaking up any lumps of brown sugar.
Pour the spice mixture over both sides of the pork and press it into the meat slightly. Note: this amount of spice mixture does not need to be increased if you use less than 2.5 lbs of pork.
Pour the maple syrup over the meat (just the top side is fine, no need to turn it over).
Add some water around the pork – just enough to coat the bottom of the slow cooker basin – just under 1/4 cup or so.
Cook the pork on the 'low' setting for 6-8 hours until it is extremely tender. If you're crunched for time, you can cook it on 'high' for 3-4 hours.
When the pork is done cooking, remove the meat to another bowl and discard the juice in the slow cooker. Note: when I use this recipe for sandwiches, I also discard any large chunks of fat. This is optional. You can leave the fat on if you like!
Return the pork to the slow cooker and shred it with two forks.
Add about 3/4 – 1 cup of BBQ sauce (any kind you prefer) and stir to coat the shredded pork completely in the sauce.
At this point, the pork is completely ready to eat! if you're using it for sandwiches, keep it warm while you assemble the sandwiches.
For the Cuban Sandwiches
If you're using a panini press, turn it on and get it heating. If you're using a grill pan, heat it over medium-high heat.
Butter the outside of your bread (both pieces!) and spread a generous layer of mustard on inside of the bottom piece of bread.
Place the bottom slice of bread into the grill pan, and assemble the sandwich directly on top of it, while it begins to brown.
Add two slices of ham first, then one slice of Swiss cheese, then a generous amount of pulled pork, 2-3 pickle slices, another slice of cheese, and the top layer of (buttered) bread. Note: the exact amount of ingredients you use is your call! I like to make these sandwiches hearty, so I always add two slices of ham and a generous portion of the pulled pork to each sandwich. I typically add 3 pickle slices, and sometimes I add mustard to both slices of bread. Sandwich making is an art, not a science! I also use extra long slices of cheese (which you can ask your cheese monger at your local deli to cut for you) so that they cover the entire length of the bread I am using.
If you're using a panini press, get pressin! If you're using a grill pan (which is what I use), press the sandwich down by getting a heavy-bottomed skillet and setting on top of the sandwich to weigh it down while it grills. If you don't have a heavy skillet, you can use a normal skillet and just pop something heavy in it to weigh it down, like a can of soup. Note: while it cooks, if some of the cheese or pork seeps out and gets crispy or lacy, that's perfectly fine! This is where extra flavor comes from – sloppy sandwiches are the best sandwiches.
When the first side is crisped up and golden brown, flip it and press the other side down. When both sides are crisp and browned, it's ready to eat! Note: I usually toggle between medium-high and medium heat while I cook the sandwiches: I use medium-high heat when each buttered side first hits the pan – about 2 minutes (to maximize crispiness). and then medium heat while it finishes cooking and heating everything through (about 3-4 mins/side).