One of the hazards of cooking from books is that, sometimes, I have not yet had the opportunity to sample the original version of whatever it is I am trying to cook. My first attempt at Guacamole, for example, had people asking what it was because, even though I followed the recipe exactly, it bore no resemblance to actual guacamole. Why? Having no previous experience with avocados, I had no clue that they should be soft, like a banana, not rock hard, like a carrot.
Such is the case with Cubanos. Ever since we watched the movie Chef, I have been fascinated with the idea of these sandwiches. I mean, for an entire movie to be based upon a sandwich, it must be one heck of a taste experience! Shortly after seeing the film, Nagi’s Recipe Tin Eats published the recipe developed by Chef Roy Choi, for the pork used in the movie sandwich.
Off to the meat market to buy pork to recreate what was quickly reaching mythical status in my imagination. The result of our efforts was pretty good. But, perhaps because of the build up I had given it in my mind, it was not the taste experience I had been expecting.
We liked the mustard glaze on this a lot. Better, even, than the marvellous Mojo marinade on the first try, according to my nerdy food notes, and thus declared it to be our new favourite version. But at the end of the day, I questioned the value of all the effort put into preparing and cooking the pork and subsequently, making the sandwich.
In all honesty, it still felt like just a fancy name for a grilled sandwich to me and I could not shake the feeling that there must be something “more” to this. I mean, if it really was just a sandwich, why all the fuss? Why, when I google Cubano, do I come up with PAGES of hits. Why does seemingly every chef out there have their own spin on it? Pinterest actually has a whole board JUST FOR Cuban Sandwiches!
We stopped at a new place for lunch today, and on their menu was Cubana! Assuming this to be the Mexican version of a Cubano (a google search later did confirm this to be true), I ordered one to try to discern what I have been missing in trying to make this at home.
My plate hit the table with a ‘thud’. One look at it, and I realized why it was $90 pesos, and the most expensive thing on the menu! I have never seen a sandwich so big! It was worthy of a spot on Man vs Food ! What a day to have left my camera at home! It was so big, I immediately sent half of it back to the kitchen to be wrapped to go.
The half sandwich you see below weighed in at 15.8 oz! And this is only half of it!! Imagine!
Upon examining the contents of this behemoth, I realized what I have been missing in all my attempts, and which is pretty much the whole point of the sandwich, I think . . . abundance with humility.
Stuffed between the layers of bread was the expected layer of pork, this one braised in a light tomato sauce. Also included was a breaded pork cutlet, a scrambled egg (maybe 2), a slice of deli ham, at least 2 grilled wieners, a slice of American cheese (translate that to kraft cheese slice), a fairly large slab of panela (fresh local cheese), tomato, onion and lettuce.
This sandwich taught me a lot. Not just about Cubanos and Cubanas, but also about cooking in general. The Cubanos I had been making, while technically correct and very nearly picture perfect fell far short of the experience I was hoping for . This was a good reminder that while everyone can cook from a book, it is getting out there to experience the cultures and flavours we want to bring to our stovetops that make us stronger cooks.
Only now, that I have tasted the “real deal” will I be able to fully “bring it “to my own table. Admittedly, duplicating this exact sandwich in my own home will most likely never happen, just because of its size. But I will take what I learned from it to kick my next pork sandwich up a few notches.