After Thanksgiving, most people are no doubt thinking turkey leftovers, but my thoughts are on the forest-raised pig to be delivered this week. I appreciate the comfort of having the freezer full of meat to last through the winter. This pig will join locally raised lamb and chickens. Childhood had moments of food insecurity, so I am especially grateful I can order enough from my local farmers to last through the winter. My pig has been feeding off nuts and wild berries with occasional leftovers from the farmer’s table. The meat is flavorful and sweet, a reflection of the care given to raising him to provide sustenance for my family through the long winter. I don’t order an entire pig, although, technically it is classified as such. I don’t use the hooves, organs, or head, but I assure you, the farmer uses those parts and will share with other people. Through the winter and into next summer, my family will enjoy brunches of oven-baked bacon with a side of eggs or waffles (yes, bacon is the main attraction), ribs on the grill or Sunday dinner roasts.
My family’s Christmas Eve tradition is to savor pulled pork as the main ingredient in Cubanos – The Cuban Sandwich! I slow cook a 3-4 lb pork shoulder in the slow cooker all day and by late evening, I set out the Cubano components. As family gathers, sandwich assembly commences, while we chat and imbibe in craft beer or wine. Often, posts on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet of Cubanos, don’t look like the real deal. The truth is everyone who makes them think their Cubano is the real deal. Some say Cuban bread makes them real, but I find French bread serves as a fine substitute when you live in New England, far away from the cities of Tampa or Miami; cities which lay claim to fame of the Cuban sandwich. Whichever, the bread should be crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Slice your pork or pull it apart, but I find pulling it apart allows you to spread it to every inch of the bread. I layer the pork with thinly sliced ham and Swiss cheese.
Now here’s where there are no substitutes. You absolutely have to use salad mustard. You know, the golden, yellow stuff. You also have to have thinly sliced, lengthwise, sour dill pickles. Accept no substitutes. Have you seen the movie Chef? Chef Jon Favreau serves Cubanos from his food truck, El Jefe and supposedly his Cubanos revive his career and his marriage. Well, maybe that’s true and may it’s not. Mine certainly bring our family together and I’m pretty sure the secret to success lies in the mustard and pickles! This year I’ve snagged Raye’s award-winning, classic golden yellow mustard. It’s stone ground and made in small batches. Order it online at rayesmustard.com where you can also find some retail locations. Better yet, go visit them in Eastport, ME. They’re good people and you’ll be sure to have a nice visit along with some tasty sampling.
Christmas Eve Cubanos:
Serves 6 to 8
6 oz. thinly sliced boiled ham
Butter, for brushing
Three French bread loaves, split lengthwise
2 lb Shredded Pork Shoulder
1 lb. thinly sliced Swiss cheese
5 sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise (we love these, so I have extra for snacking while waiting)
Add the ham slices to a hot fry pan and cook over moderate heat about 1 minute. Slather butter on the cut sides of each French loaf and toast until lightly browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the bread to a work surface and brush the cut sides with mustard, to taste. Layer the ham, pork, Swiss cheese and pickles on the bread close the sandwiches. Generously brush the outside of the sandwiches with butter. At this point, traditionally, you set them on a griddle or press. If using a griddle, top the sandwiches with a large baking sheet and weigh it down with heavy cans or a cast-iron skillet, this will meld the juices as they cook. It takes about 3 mins. each side on a griddle or 3 minutes total in a press. I wrap mine in foil and put them in the oven at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 mins. The important thing is to be sure the cheese melts and they are warmed through. Slice on the diagonal and serve. ENJOY!