Sunday, April 03, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Florida Part 2A (The Southern Half) - Un sandwich simplemente no es un sandwich... si no es cubano

We now head farther south into what is probably considered “Yankee-occupied Florida”. The southern half of the state is home to great cultural diversity and a unique cuisine all its own. It's Key limes, conchs and Cuban sandwiches in this post! First a review of where we are.

Official Name: State of Florida
State Nicknames: The Sunshine State
Admission to the US: March 3, 1845 (#27)
Capital: Tallahassee (8th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Jacksonville (largest city), Miami (2nd largest), Tampa (3rd largest), St. Petersburg (4th largest), Orlando (5th largest)
Region: South, Gulf Coast; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Crabcake, Gumbo
Bordered by: Alabama (northwest), Georgia (north), Atlantic Ocean (east), Caribbean Sea (south), Gulf of Mexico (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Key lime pie (pie), orange (fruit)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Cuban food (southern Florida), Key lime pie, seafood (stone crab, shrimp, conch, crawfish, etc), alligator (northern Florida) typical Deep Southern foods (northern Florida), foods of New York/New Jersey especially Italian & Jewish (southern Florida)

Miami, Palm Beach, Fort Myers and such bring armies of retirees from New York, New Jersey and parts north to settle or vacation. Emigrés from outside the proper South have brought their own rich food traditions with them. For instance, Florida's Jewish community has grown over the past half century mostly due to immigration from the North. Please remember: the history of Jewish Florida begins in the 1760’s, and not in the 1960’s when (according to the state’s Jewish population grew dramatically from a mere 25,000 two decades earlier, to well over 175,000. Today there are about 750,000 Jewish Floridians, the country’s third largest Jewish community and the largest in any Southern state.

Immigrants also have flooded into Florida from outside parts from many parts of Asia, Latin America and (especially) the Caribbean. Florida’s Cuban community is notable among these, and it has had a major influence over Miami’s cuisine. Florida’s Cuban-American population is close to 900,000 - by far the largest in the US. Like Florida’s Jewish population, its Cuban population predates the 1960’s. However, the turmoil of the Cuban revolution in 1959 spurred much more migration from Cuba to Florida. The influence on Miami’s food is very distinct. Take the famous Cuban sandwich (sandwich cubano or sandwich mixto): ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese, sandwiched into a piece of Cuban bread and fried. I looked at many recipes for the Cuban sandwich, and while they all share those things in common there are enough differences that you cannot just use them interchangeably.

The recipe I finally went with comes from the Three Guys From Miami. Brothers-in-law Jorge Castillo, Glenn Lindgren and Raúl Musibay celebrate all things culinarily Cuban, and their Cuban sandwich, as it exists in south Florida, seems pretty darn authoritative. They give lots of tips about what each component should be like, and a history of the sandwich, dating at least back to the 1930’s if not much earlier.

The recipe: Cuban Sandwich

As the Three Guys suggest, this is a fairly simple sandwich, and well loved - as Glenn Lindgren notes - “it’s a combination of ingredients that are almost universally loved”. The most difficult part is the grilling, which is not at all difficult.

You will need:

* ham lunchmeat, thinly sliced but not shaved (preferably a sweet one. I got a brown sugar one for about $2.50 for a ¼ lb)
* roast pork (again, I got the lunchmeat version, about $3 for a ¼ lb)
* Swiss cheese (baby Swiss if you can get it - I got lacy Swiss cheese, not quite the same, for about $2 for a ¼ lb)
* Cuban bread (this was the difficult thing to find. It’s difficult to find in Baltimore, so I went with a French batard loaf. The Three Guys recommend French bread but specifically say not to get a baguette)
* mustard and pickles (have them both)
* butter (for frying as well as for buttering the inside of the loaf
* The authors specifically state the following: DO NOT USE MAYONNAISE.

In the Three Guys’ recipe, you need to halve and butter the insides of the bread, and then stack everything in the bread in the following order: ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles.

If using mustard, this should probably go on next. Close the thing up and fry in butter in a pan for two to three minutes on each side, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown.

And while cooking, you must not forget this very important step: weight down the sandwich with something heavy. It could be a brick wrapped in aluminum foil, or a bacon press, or another cast-iron skillet like I used. I tended to hold mine down.

Like so.

This is quite the filling sandwich. One batard of bread yielded two massive sandwiches for me, each of which I cut in half to get four meals out of the experience. You think I’m going to eat the whole damn sandwich in one sitting?


Castillo, Jorge, Glenn Lindgren and Raúl Musibay (Three Guys from Miami). “Cuban Food Recipe: Sandwich Cubano”, published 2004. Copyright Three Guys from Miami, 1996-2011. Originally from the book Three Guys From Miami Cook Cuban (Jorge Castillo, Glenn Lindgren and Raúl Musibay), Gibbs Smith: Layton, UT: 2004. "Florida Jewish History”, publish date 2010. Copyright 2010.

Voltz, Jeanne, and Caroline Stuart. The Florida Cookbook: From Gulf Coast Gumbo to Key Lime Pie. Random House: New York, 1993.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Florida" page and other pages, and theFood Timeline State Foods link to "Florida".