Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hot Pressed Mixto: My Cuban Sandwich from Hugo's is perfect

This is a traditional Mixto, or hot, pressed Cuban sandwich. The Cuban, or Cubano, has a history like every favorite food we know and savor. Whether it’s a fried chicken or meat loaf that only mom could make, a special “red sauce” passed down from Sicilian ancestors, pot roast to die for, or a Wiener Schnitzel that only your nana could prepare, our beloved favorite food has a story (and secret recipe.) The Cuban sandwich, known as a Mixto in Cuba, and a Cubana at many restaurants and cafeterias from Miami, to Tampa, to North Bergen, NJ, is a simple sandwich with a proud tradition. And, a history and recipe that is guarded, argued over, fought for and vied for in Cuban sandwich contests that seem to go on year-round in many neighborhoods in Miami and Tampa. We do know that when the cigar industry, Vincente Ybor’s factories and workers, left Key West for Tampa in the 1880s, the sandwich they enjoyed most came with them. Other versions, some even (holding my nose!!) with lettuce and tomato, wound up in restaurants up and down the east coast. And even in parts of California. (The second largest Cuban population the United States is in Union City, New Jersey, which sits beside West New York, where I lived for a time, and the Hudson River - right across from Manhattan.)


While some may debate what exactly goes into a “real” Cuban, a traditional sandwich starts with special Cuban bread. It is not Italian or French. Different and very crispy good. (Cuban bread is made with lard instead of oil.) The loaf is sliced into lengths of about 10 inches, lightly buttered on the crust side and given a coat of yellow mustard. Then roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly-sliced dill pickles are added in layers. The pork is marinated in a citrus and garlic marinade called mojo* and is slow roasted. Next is Genoa salami. In Tampa, every Cuban includes salami. It became a part of Tampa’s Cuban sandwich recipe because of our meting-pot of immigrants. (Our Spanish and Italians immigrants lived and worked alongside the Cubans in Ybor City's huge cigar industry and give Tampa its unique culture and heritage. And FOOD!) Salami is a must for our Cuban sandwich.


When everything is together in the bread, it’s then toasted – HOT and PRESSED – in a plancha, which is somewhat similar to a Panini press. The entire sandwich is heated and smushed and it all melds together perfectly. From there it’s taken out, cut diagonally, wrapped and a toothpick inserted to hold it all together …ready for its beauty shot before being devoured along with my bowl of black beans.


Hugo’s Spanish Restaurant makes the claim that it is The Official Cuban of Tampa Bay. Claims in Tampa for the biggest, best, most authentic and, of course, best tasting are quite common and all have a ring a truth to them. We do have great Cubans. I am sure that a Cuban sandwich contest is being held right now, as I write this. So, today, I did my part. Hugo’s Cuban is good. One of the very best. Period. But everyone in Tampa has their favorite. Surprisingly, Hugo’s, which is on South Howard Avenue, south of Kennedy Boulevard in the SoHo dining and entertainment district, has been around since the 1970s, long before South Howard had a reputation for anything but Bern’s Steak House. Playboy online, in this month’s issue, just named Hugo’s the best Cuban sandwich, sharing honors with lobster rolls from Nantucket and cheesesteak sandwiches from Philadelphia. Hugo’s is a winner in many food and restaurant contests and is a place you can always count on for their excellent food and great service. Always.

*Cuban Mojo recipe: Authentic mojo is made with juice from sour oranges. It still has a little orange taste, but it’s very acidic and tart. Try mixing equal amounts of freshly squeezed orange juice with lime juice. If you live in an area with a large Latin community, you should be able to find bottled Mojo. (The Goya brand is good.)

10 comments:

Jacob said...

I'm finding that I'm gaining weight on this food fetish of yours! ;-)

It is difficult to find a really good Cuban sandwich, but, by Jove, I think you've done it.

And your photo is so excellent, my mouth waters just looking at it.

Gracias, mi amigo!

Frank said...

@ Jacob - I really need to move away from the meat and get a plate of fried shrimp and then try to hold off long enough to shoot it. But, alas, that is tough with shrimp. NO willpower at all. Sorry to my vegan friends...all this fine pork, beef, salami, etc., etc., etc. I should stick with gravestones and jack-up custom cars. (So, how's the weight gain? Adding a few lbs. just reading the posts?)

Jacob said...

Let me put it this way: Since looking at this post, I've not been out of the refrigerator more than 5 minutes at a time!

Sheesh!

Don and Krise said...

I don't blame you guys. Here in Washington we're a long long ways from a Cuban anything! That sandwich looks absolutely deeeelicious, but how do you think it would hold up if you UPS'd one to me?

nobu said...

Looks delicious!!
I'd like to have it.

B SQUARED said...

It's what I really miss from So Fla. Mojo has become a part of our kitchen. Can't imagine being without it.

Lois said...

Oh that looks good! My father used to have a favorite recipe for Cuban sandwiches and when he made them, it was a big production. He would set up a sort of assembly line on the kitchen counter and we would watch him. It was almost as much fun watching as it was eating them! If you post a picture of fried shrimp Frank, you might do me in.

Frank said...

@ Lois - Now I've put fried shrimp solidly in my sights. Darn, must eat fried shrimp, Must eat fried shrimp. (And, take camera to record.)

Kathleen McQueen Wright said...

Being raised in Tampa this was so common to me in my life. Now I have been gone for 16 years and the only way I can have one is if I come home to Tampa or make it myself. As a child Cubano lunch ladies could cook like there was no tomorrow!!

Frank said...

@Kathleen - A hot pressed Cuban is hard to go without when you move away. They are delicious!