the cubano

The Cubano – The Cuban Sandwich

Anyone who has ever had the Cubano will have been won over by the combination of ham, cheese, marinated roast pork, pickles and mustard on a soft doughy bread, toasted so that the cheese melts and the flavours all come together into something amazing. To make the Cubano you need to get started the day before. Make the starter for the bread and marinate the pork shoulder in mojo for cooking slowly on the kettle braai the next day.

Where does the Cubano come from?

You may think that the Cuban sandwich originated in Cuba, but it’s more commonly agreed that its actual origins are in the USA, in Florida to be precise. What is definitely clear is that it was made by Cuban immigrants as a variation of the simple ham and cheese sandwiches common in Cuba as a quick lunch option.

Cuban bread

This Cuban bread is similar to a French baguette, but softer and broader – perfect for making Cuban sandwiches. Start the day before with a starter to add another dimension to the bread.


  • ½ teaspoon instant dried yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ¼ cup cake flour

Add the ingredients to a small bowl and stir until well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place overnight.

For the dough

  • 4 cups cake flour (some people use a combination of cake flour and bread flour for a denser bread)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lard (or vegetable oil)
  • 1½ teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • The starter you made the day before

Sift the flour and set aside. Combine the water, salt, sugar, lard, yeast and the starter. Add 3½ cups flour to begin, and then add more if necessary. Mix the dough for 10 minutes on medium. (Use a mixer with a dough hook or mix by hand.) The dough should come away cleanly from the sides; if it doesn’t, add more flour. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size, which should take about 2 hours. Punch down and let it rise again for another hour. Cut the bread into two even pieces and flatten them down to make two long rectangles. Fold the bread lengthways, making a long tube with the cut side down. Place on a baking tray dusted with flour and let it rest for 20 minutes. Use a sharp knife and cut a shallow line across the bread, leaving 5cm on either end. Add a tray of water to the bottom of the oven. Spray water on the top of the bread and bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes.

Lechon asado con Mojo (Marinated roast pork)

What makes this roast special is the Mojo marinade – a combination of loads of garlic and sour orange make this uniquely Cuban. Mojo sauce and marinade originates from the Canary Islands, where they use either red or green mojo for many dishes, particularly salty potatoes. Green mojo is made with garlic, green pepper, olive oil, vinegar, cumin and fresh coriander blended together and used as a marinade for seafood, fish, chicken and other meats, and also as a dipping sauce. Red mojo is also based on garlic, olive oil, vinegar and cumin, but it’s a bit spicier and made red by the addition of red pepper and chilli pepper or paprika. Many Canarians emigrated to the Caribbean islands as well as to Cuba, taking with them their mojo sauces, which the Cubans borrowed and tweaked with their own unique ingredients, like sour orange. Use this sauce to marinate a 1.5 – 2kg pork shoulder or ham.

Cuban Mojo

20 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
Handful fresh oregano (or a teaspoon of dried oregano)
1½ cups sour orange (this is not something we can find easily, so make your own using 1 cup orange juice (3 – 4 oranges), ¼ cup lemon juice (1 – 2 lemons) and ¼ cup lime juice (2 – 3 limes).
1½ cups mild olive oil

Add the garlic, salt, pepper, onions and oregano to a food processor and blend until mushy, like a paste. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan until just heated through – don’t overdo it. Add the garlic mix to the hot oil and stir in. This releases all the flavours. Add the sour orange and stir well. Pour over the pork shoulder, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To cook the meat

Set up a kettle braai to cook indirectly. To do this, place 15 briquettes on each side of a roasting pan or tinfoil and light them. (This is based on a ±47cm grill.) Place the meat on the grill 30 minutes after lighting, cover with the lid and open all the braai’s vents. Cook for about 3 – 4 hours. Every hour, add four briquettes to each side and brush the pork with the marinade. The pork should pull apart easily when done. If you are using a thermometer, the internal temperature of the meat should be 77°C.

The Cubano

  • Cuban bread
  • Ham, sliced
  • Swiss cheese or mozzarella, sliced
  • Pickled cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • Roasted pork – cut up the pork and add a little of the marinade to keep it moist
  • Mustard, like Dijon

Spread mustard on the sliced bread, add sliced cheese, pickles, ham, pork and another layer of cheese to glue the sandwich together. Place on the grill to brown the bread and melt the cheese, or use a toaster or grill pan. Makes 4.

The Gardener