Around the World in 80 Dates is a blog series designed to take me (and Tom) out of our comfort zones and force us to cook food from other countries. Each week, we use a random country generator to tell us where we will be cooking from. We have to cook at least one dish from this country, the more traditional the better. We alternate who’s cooking each week, this week is Tom’s turn.
Have you all seen the movie Chef? That was what I first thought of when Tom was given Cuba as his country to cook from. I begged him to make Cuban sandwiches. I’ve since checked the ‘cuban cuisine’ wiki page and – thank god – the Cuban sandwich has its own subheading, so we kept it authentic despite doing essentially zero research beforehand.
The cuban sandwich can be traced all the way back to the 1800s, when it was a common lunch for workers from the cigar factories and sugar mills. It’s hugely popular in the USA thanks to all the movement between Cuba and Florida back in those days, so much so that no one is quite sure where it was actually first created.
As far as we could tell from a little Googling, the cuban sandwich rules are: two meats (and lots of them), swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. The closest bread we could find to the ones featured in the recipes we looked at was a mini baguette (more on why that was troublesome later) and Tom got slices of gammon and pork shoulder from the butcher counter.
I know I said that Tom was going to be doing the cooking this week, but you should have seen the look on his face when I said I wasn’t going to help at all, so I stepped in here and there. Tom sliced the gherkins, layered up the meat and cheese and slathered on the mayo. He rubbed a little butter on each side of the baguettes and then handed them over to me for the tricky bit.
As it turned out, I was no better at the tricky bit than he might have been. You know I’m a dab hand with a grilled cheese, but those are always made with lovely, flat, easy to work with breads and very little filling. The cuban sandwiches were nothing short of a nightmare. I had to place them in the pan then cover with a layer of baking paper, then a baking tray, then my great big heavy Le Cresuet. Thanks to how well stacked they were with stagerring amounts of meat, cheese and pickles, they just didn’t want to play nicely. They were slipping and sliding all over the place, the bumpy top layers of baguette were falling diagonally and refusing to play ball, it was all very stressful.
For that reason, I gave up on the frying long before the cheese had time to melt. So we had the lovely crunchy fried bread exterior, but the filling wasn’t hot and the cheese wasn’t oozy. That’s on me. If we had a sandwich press or something then I would have nailed them, but it was too much of an undertaking in the frying pan. It was still delicious, it just probably would have been more delicious if it was hotter and meltier.
I feel like we played it pretty safe again this week. These are all ingredients and methods that we’re both totally familiar with. Next week, however, I don’t think we’ll be so lucky. My country? Kyrgyzstan. They eat a lot of horse meat.