Key West Cuban Sandwiches
Since I’ve never been to Cuba, how could I really say what a Cuban sandwich is like? It’s because I feel like I sorta traveled there by way of south Florida when I was young girl. My dad us there often and we visited a lot of great Latin restaurants, which is where I really developed my palate for diverse latin food. I often wonder if they’re still there, because they were that memorable: from Greek food in Tarpon Springs to Colombian food in Sarasota, or Cuban fare like Paella Valencia and Cuban Sandwiches in Miami and Key West at the famed El Siboney, often times at hyper local spots that were also neighborhood phenomenons like this one.
This developed my love of fine restaurant food, diversity in food, the various food cultures available to explore in the world- how blessed I am to have had that experience and develop a palette at such a young age. I think that’s why I’m sitting here writing about food and cooking this type of food today, among the other varieties of globally-inspired dishes I love so much.
So to re-create the dishes I wanted to eat halal, I started with the famed Cuban Sandwich, since it’s one that has ham and pork meat in it, and something I thought I might never be able to have again. After some research, however, I was able to figure out right spice mixture and build a sandwich that not only I love, but my family and friends love, too. We tested the recipe many times to get it just right, which is why it also ended up in my newest cookbook, My Halal Kitchen: Global Recipes, Cooking Tips, Lifestyle Inspiration.
Basically, the meat I use is boneless, skinless chicken thighs. It’s dark meat, separates easily and cooks down great. The spice mixture is like an adobo somewhat but when you begin to cook it, the real kicker is adding in some orange juice- that gives not just flavor, but added acidity to break down the meat faster as it cooks.
If you have chicken stock or broth, add that, too. That gives it a little extra chicken flavor and color to the stock. Eventually, all the liquid will boil out before you plop it into the sandwich, but the flavor will be in the meat.
The original cooking time is long, but I’ve since made it twice recently and kicked up the flame to speed it up and had this done and ready to shred within 35 minutes, so it is doable.
Once that’s done, you can pull the meat apart with a fork. Now comes the building part- as you’ll see in the recipe, get some really great bread. If you’re near a Mexican store get the bolillo bread, but make sure it is not made with manteca, or lard. If you can’t find a good source, then a hoagie bread bun will do just fine.
Each side of the bread gets mustard, cheese (I use provolone if I can’t find Swiss), pickles (I use gardener if I’m out of pickles) and some halal smoked Turkey salami or bologna that you can find at most Middle Eastern/Mediterranean and Indo-Pakistani markets.
Then, I add the shredded chicken, close up the sandwich and wrap it in foil. I place it in a panini press or over a grill or in a grill pan and push it down with something heavier. This makes it flattened, makes the cheese melt and heats up all the ingredients so well.
Even if you’ve never had an authentic Cuban sandwich, this is one I think you’re absolutely going to love- and why not, it’s totally saborosa!
- It's been a very long time since I've had a traditional Cuban sandwich - since way back when, during a trip to Miami and Key West. On the trip, I stopped at as many Cuban restaurants as I could find. Cubans rever the authenticity of this sandwich - so I've created a version with halal meats for anyone who misses this sandwich style and wants to have it without the pork.
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1/4 cup minced + 1 whole clove garlic, divided
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped curly parsley
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste if desired
- 1 cup minced onion
- 2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-1/2 cups water or chicken stock/broth
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 8 slices bread
- 1/4 cup yellow mustard
- 8 slices swiss cheese
- 8 thin slices smoked turkey
- 1 cup sliced pickles
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, the minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the oregano, the parsley, the salt, the red pepper flakes, and the black pepper. Stir and set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and saute for 3 to 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the marinated chicken, orange and lime juices, and bay leaves and cook for about 10 minutes.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, add the water and/or broth, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 2 hours. Remove from the heat. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In a small glass mixing bowl, combine the garlic clove and the butter. Place in the microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds. (You can also warm these together for 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat in a small saucepan.) Set aside.
- Spread the garlic butter on 1 side of each slice of the bread. On a hot grill or in a toaster oven, toast the buttered slices. Repeat until all the bread has been toasted.
- Spread the mustard on each slice of the toasted bread. Add 1 piece of the cheese to each slice. On top of the cheese, add a layer of the cooled chicken and then season with the salt and black pepper. Add a slice of turkey and season again with the salt and black pepper. Evenly divide the pickles among the stacks and then close each sandwich.
- Place a large cast-iron pan or grill over medium-high heat. Place the sandwiches in the pan and place a foil-wrapped brick or similar heavy, flat object over each sandwich. Grill for 2 to 4 minutes, until the bread becomes crispy. Turn over each sandwich and repeat on the other side. Remove from the heat.
- Transfer the sandwiches to individual serving plates and serve hot.
Asalaamu alaikoum, Yvonne. I am Yousef Salem, the man that asked Costco to include an article about halal foods in its Costco Connection magazine. I still have the copy with your superb article.
I was born in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1939 and we lived in Tampa. I used to sell Cuban Deviled Crabs from a basket to help my family with finances. They are fabulous and I have the recipe from Colombia Restaurant if you want a copy. I also have the recipe for the superb Bollitos balls that are made with black eye beans and garlic. It is from The Gasparilla Cookbook that I bought online.
I bought your My Halal Kitchen cookbook that I treasure. My 48 year old daughter Renee wants to become a cook. Do you have a student program? We are in Sunnyvale, California, which is near San Jose and about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Where are you located?
Chutney Mary’s Food truck in my area is owned my a Christian woman who once ate halal meat and considered it to be so exceptional that she prepares meats and poultry that are halal and she is a big favorite in this area.
May Allah grant you greater success beyond your expectations.
Wow, looks and sounds absolutely delicious! And I love that you made a halal version of this dish. I would use a crusty French or Italian bread, and then press it (a la plancha) when it’s all assembled. Yum-o!
Hello Yvonne, your recipe looks delicious! I can not keep my mouth shut! Slurp…….I will try one! Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe!