With the crunchy snap of your first bite into my Cajun Cuban Sandwich, you just know this one is special. With the unmistakable punch of Creole mustard and the ooze of melted pepper jack blending with all the traditional ingredients in this multi-cultural version of the famous sandwich, this recipe will up your kitchen cred for sure.
Just ninety miles south of the tip of Florida, Cuba is a world away from my home in Cajun country. Or is it? From a food perspective, there’s much we have in common. Our respective cultures revolve around food, and families frequently come together to celebrate at the communal table. Pig roasts are common in both cultures; in fact, the Cuban La Caja China pig roaster is the inspiration for the ever-popular Cajun microwave. Our red beans and rice hold just as much importance as their black beans–both are culinary icons of the dinner table. And who could dive into a huge pan of Cuban paella and not see the comparison to our black-pot jambalaya? With colorful celebrations rooted in connection to family and friends, Cajun and Cuban cultures share a common theme of enjoying life to the fullest.
Some years ago, I saw firsthand the fusion of those cultures at the wedding of Roxanne’s best friend Julie Morgan, a Cajun girl from Jennings, Louisiana, to Cesar Vazquez, a prominent New Orleans attorney. With an invitation list of over 200 Cajuns and Cubans coming together, it was a raucous celebration with a mixing of music, friendships, and of course, food–lots of food.
Recently, Rox and I had the privilege of spending a week in Florida with the Vazquez family including Cesar’s father (Papi) and mother (Josie), where we immersed ourselves in their culture playing Cuban dominoes, drinking Mojitos, eating black beans and sweet plantains (Roxanne’s favorite). It was a cultural awakening and inspired me to head to the kitchen.
As the po’boy is to Louisiana, the Cuban sandwich (aka “Cubano”) is to their culture. Little known fact is that the sandwich did not originate in Cuba, but rather it was invented in the Cuban immigrant community of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida. It quickly spread throughout South Florida as Cuban exiles came to the region in the 1960s.
A classic sandwich preparation, it uses many of the same building blocks as our po’boy, but unlike Louisiana po’boys that have many variations, the Cuban sandwich almost always contains the same basic ingredients. Also, where most po’boys are dressed with lettuce tomato and slathered with Blue Plate mayonnaise, none of those ingredients would ever grace a Cuban sandwich. Not ever. And one other major difference: a perfectly made Cubano is hot-pressed flat to crispy crusty perfection.
With my Cajun Cuban Sandwich experiment, I do not intend to deviate far from the roots of this iconic sandwich, but I do plan to add a few Cajun cross-over changes. I’m sticking with the basics of roast pork and sliced ham as the meaty base (some use salami, too), but I’m melting a spicier pepper jack cheese (instead of Swiss) to up the heat. And while I stay true to the yellow mustard of a true Cuban sandwich, I can’t resist slathering on my favorite Zatarain’s Creole mustard for an extra layer of bayou spice. Since traditional Cuban bread is scarce along the bayou, feel free to use a Louisiana po’boy French bread loaf that presses down to a crispy finish.
Give my Cajun Cuban Sandwich a try, and I think you’ll agree that the two cultures have good taste in common.
- 4 (8-inch) loaves Cuban bread or po'boy bread
- 4 tablespoons yellow mustard
- 4 tablespoons Creole mustard
- 1 pound sliced roast pork (loin or shoulder)
- 1 pound sliced ham
- 8 slices pepper jack cheese
- 1 cup sliced dill pickles
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Slice open the bread and slather the bottom half with yellow mustard and the top half with Creole mustard. Layer on the pork and ham, and top with 2 slices of cheese and a few dill pickles. Close the sandwich and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
- In a large black iron skillet over medium-high heat, add the sandwich. Place another heavy cast iron pan or pot on top of the sandwich to press down (add weight to the pan to maximize contact). Once the cheese begins to melt, turn the sandwich over and continue pressing until the bread crisps and the interior of the sandwich is hot. Remove the sandwich and cut into diagonal halves. Serve immediately while hot.
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