Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cajun Cubanos

It's rare that a movie speaks to your soul, and even rarer when it manages to hit on just about every aspect of it. The magnificent foodie-porn film Chef combined my love of cooking with both my Cuban and New Orleans heritage for the most enjoyable and fun movie I've seen in quite some time (especially impressive given that I watched it on a plane). Immediately upon seeing it, I went about convincing Kevin he had to watch it, so we could quit our jobs and open up a food truck (At least 1/3 of that equation has now been completed. Stop holding out, Kevin!).

Finally, this Sunday we got together to watch the Saints dominate the Packers and did our best to reenact the movie in our fanciest guayaberas (or at least I did).

Would our Cajun spins on the most perfect sandwich (It's grilled cheese stuffed with pork!) provide us with all the mojo we needed to enjoy the Saints game, or would we learn that it's best to stick with tradition?

With enough prodding, I'm sure I could get Kevin to wear a guayabera. I mean he did wear nothing but Hawaiian shirts when we met.
The Ingredient List

Cuban Bread (see below)
Mojo Pork (see below)
Ham (we used maple glazed honey ham)
Swiss Cheese
Havarti Cheese
Olive Salad (see below)
Mojo Spread (see below)
Remoulade (Previously seen here but with cilantro in place of parsley)
Kevin's mom's homemade pickles
Momma Kennair's fried shrimp
And most importantly- butter

  1. Start calculating the cost of a food truck.
  2. Decide it's far too expensive and that your friend's kitchen is "just as good".
  3. Determine which of these 3 awesome sandwiches deserves your mouth's immediate attention. 
  4. Recreate the stack-up as shown. I recommend putting the spread you pick on both pieces of bread.
  5. Combine the two sides into proper sandwich form. Slather with butter.
  6. Grill in a buttered skillet over medium to medium-low heat while applying pressure with a weight. Flip and repeat. We used a heavy cast-iron cover to weigh ours down, but you could be fancy and use an actual sandwich press.
  7. Embrace your Cuban heritage in the most delicious way possible.

The Traditional
The Traditional Stack-up: Bread, mojo pork, ham (3 slices), Swiss cheese (3-4 slices), pickles, and Dijon mustard.
Now this was a sandwich. Our first attempt may have just been the greatest Cuban sandwich any of us had eaten (for the next few minutes at least). The mojo pork was fantastic, and Kevin's last second audible to add cloves paid off by really bringing complexity and uniqueness to the juicy goodness. His contributions to this sandwich's success weren't over, though, as his mom's homemade pickles were spot-on (and infinitely better than any store bought pickle I've ever had). Top it all off with poweful Dijon mustard, and this was all the joy that a Cuban sandwich is supposed to be.

This sandwich looked kind of like a sad duck following grilling and cutting. 

The Cuban Muffaletta
The Cuban Muffaletta Stack-up: Bread, mojo pork, ham (2 slices), prosciutto, Havarti (4 slices), olive salad, and mojo spread.
Our first Cajun fusion attempt managed the seemingly impossible by toppling our traditional sandwich in our personal rankings. The prosciutto added some extra New Orleans worthy decadence, while the Havarti proved once and for all that it should be the official cheese sponsor of sandwiches, and the mojo spread amplified everything that made the pork special. The MVP (can you tell I'm writing this while watching the World Series), however, was the distinguishing factor of any good Muffaletta- the olive salad (I really need to figure out how to get giardiniera in my life). Marrying together the best aspects of a Cuban sandwich with those of a Muffaletta produced the gold standard for all future sandwiches, and has surely ruined us for life.

I'm jealous of this picture because it has olive salad and I do not.

The Cuban Po' Boy
The Cuban Po' boy Stack-up: Bread, mojo pork, ham (2 slices), Havarti cheese (4 slices), fried shrimp (~10),  pickles, and remoulade.
My original vision of my hypothetical Cajun fusion food truck with Kevin was the Cuban Po' Boy. As a kid, my favorite Po' Boy was always the fried shrimp, and no one made better fried shrimp than my Cuban mother (full circle fusion!). After stealing the secret family recipe she keeps locked in a safe at the bottom of a bayou (read: calling my mother), I was ready to tackle the defining food of my childhood. While the end result was quite good, they did not manage to reach the heights I'm used to as the nice mustard finish was noticeably absent, meaning I'll probably need to train under my mother's tutelage until I perfect it. The sandwich itself was still pretty great, but it suffered from an overabundance of meat (yeah, I didn't know that was possible either), making it slightly dry. Future attempts at the Cuban Po' Boy will likely need either removing one of the ham or pork, using thinner pork, or really lathering on the remoulade.

Despite being absurdly full, we found ourselves still picking out and eating all the shrimp.
Between the Saints finally looking good and non-stop amazing sandwiches, Sunday was a resounding success and surely proved beyond any reasonable doubt or logical thought that a Cajun fusion food truck needs to be in our future.

All the Recipes You'll Need

Cuban Bread
Recipe from Taste of Cuba
Servings: 4 loaves
Time: 3 hours (plus 1 day for starter)

3/4 tsp active dry yeast (1/3 envelope)
1/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup bread flour

4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (2 envelopes)
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
4 tbsp vegetable shortening, room temp
1/2 batch starter 
1 tbsp salt
4-5 cups bread flour
Kitchen twine, dampened
The best and fanciest bread I have made yet. The slightly extra work involved with making a starter really pays off.

  1. The day before you plan to make the bread, mix up the starter by dissolving the yeast in the warm water. Then mix in the flour until a thick paste forms. Cover with plastic wrap and "ripen" in the fridge for 12-24 hours (the longer the better).
  2. The day of, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 3 tbsp water in a large bowl. Allow 5-10 minutes for a foam to develop.
  3. Mix in the vegetable shortening, remaining water, salt, and 1/2 batch of the starter you made yesterday. 
  4. Be kind of sad that you still have 1/2 a batch of starter that will never see its lifelong dreams of being bread come to fruition.
  5. Add flour in 1 cup at a time and mix well with the dough hook attachment on a stand mixer. Continue adding flour until you have a workable dough that is not sticky. 
  6. Let the dough hook knead the dough for 6-8 minutes until elastic, or knead it yourself on a lightly floured surface.
  7. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until it doubles (~ 45-60 minutes).
  8. Separate into 4 equally sized balls. Roll out each into a long tube (~8-12 inches) and place on baking sheets spaced at least 6 inches apart. 
  9. Cover with damp paper towels and let rise for another hour until they double again.
  10. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  11. Place dampened pieces of twine in cool patterns on top of the dough. 
  12. Bake until tops are brown and it sounds hollow when tapped (25-30 minutes), rotating once during.
  13. Let cool on wire racks and remove the strings.
  14. Turn into ridiculous Cuban sandwiches.
Muffaletta Olive Salad
Adapted from Cooking for Two 
Time: 5 minutes (plus a day)

3/4 cup pimento-stuffed olives
1/4-1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1/2 cup giardiniera
2 large pepperoncini
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper to taste
Red chili flakes to taste
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil

  1. Drain all the ingredients.
  2. Chop finely, mix in the pepper, red chili flakes, lemon juice and olive oil, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld.
Mojo Spread
Adapted from The Cooking Channel
Time: 5 minutes

3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lime
  1. Mix all the ingredients together until smooth like your sweet Cuban dance moves.
Mojo Pork
Adapted from Tyler Florence
Time: 1 hour

How could that not turn out awesome?
2-3 lbs boneless pork shoulder or tenderloin
Red chili flakes
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and gently smashed
1 onion, sliced
1 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
So tender and juicy and delicious
  1. Cut the pork into 4-5 pieces. Season well with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano.
  2. Saute the garlic, onion, and chili flakes in olive oil in a pressure cooker on the brown setting until fragrant and soft
  3. Brown the pork on all sides. 
  4. Add the orange juice, lime juice, chicken broth, bay leaves, and cloves. Cover and set the pressure cooker to high for 40 minutes. 
  5. Follow all the safety precautions and wait for the pressure to be released before opening. 
  6. Lightly pull the pork into large, juicy chunks.
Momma Kennair's Fried Shrimp

2 eggs, scrambled
Soy Sauce
Garlic Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Shrimp, peeled and deveined
Oil for frying
One day I will properly honor your fried shrimp, Momma Kennair.
  1. Heat oil to 375 F.
  2. Mix the eggs, milk, mustard and soy sauce into one bowl and the flour and spices into another.
  3. Dip the shrimp in the liquid mixture with one hand and into the powder mix with the other. Shake off excess batter.
  4. Fry until golden brown (~ 2 minutes). Transfer to a plate covered in paper towels to remove excess oil.
  5. You can store these in an oven set to 200 F for later if needed.

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