Cuban comfort food comes back home

© 2018-Paso Robles Press

Reporter Madeline Vail shares her mom's recipe for Cuban pork loin sandwiches and croquetas

Last weekend my eldest daughter came home for a visit from college and the only things she requested I cook for her were Cuban sandwiches and croquetas — the ultimate Cuban comfort foods. Being that I have never made either of these items myself, I realized her sentimentality was going all the way back to her DNA. It was time to call mom, The Abuela.
Utilizing my fond memories of savoring the perfect Cuban sandwich ordered through a window while standing in a parking lot in Coral Gables, my abuela frying croquetas in her little kitchen in Miami, and my mother’s guidance from 3000 miles away I not only fulfilled my daughter’s wish, I would say I totally nailed it. Here’s how to make the top two Cuban comfort foods to rival any Cuban restaurant around…

Pork loin  (about 1/2 pound per person)
Sliced deli ham. PLAIN Ham, not maple or smoked.  (1/4lb per person)
Sliced Swiss Cheese
Yellow Mustard (this is a must, plain yellow mustard, nothing fancy)
Dill pickle slices
½ cup salted butter softened (lots and lots of butter, it’s a Cuban thing)
White Bread Baguette -  The crunchier on the outside and softer on the inside the better.
Roasting the pork tenderloin….
You can marinate for up to 12 hours but it is not necessary.
Pierce the meat all over approximately 3 inches apart. Pour about half a cup of vinegar (any kind) onto the meat. Coat with olive oil and then generously season all over with about a teaspoon of salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, and oregano. Place in a roasting pan fat side up.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and cook for 25 minutes per pound.
Once the roast is done, set aside and let cool to room temperature before cutting
Preparing the sandwich….
Now here is make it or break it time...besides the actual roasting of the pork loin…so pay attention and don’t skip a single step…
Slice the pork loin in 1/8 to ¼ inch slices
Slice the baguette in half
On one side generously spread the softened butter, on the other side lightly spread the yellow mustard and a small about of mayonnaise.
Layer items in this order, on the buttered side…
Swiss cheese (2 slices thick)
Sliced Pork loin (about  ½ to ¾ inch thick)
Sliced Deli Ham (about ¼ inch thick)
Sliced pickles
Close sandwich and press.
Add 1T of butter to a medium hot skillet or sandwich press.  Place the sandwich on the skillet and use another pan to press until the cheese just starts to melt. Make sure to press both sides adding butter as necessary to cover each surface.
Remove from the pan, cut on the diagonal and serve warm.
Croquetas de Jamon
Prep time:  1 hour 20 mins
Cook time:  15 mins
Serves: 6-8
For the the filling (measurements do not need to be exact, plus or minus a little here and there to taste)
16 oz package of cooked ham, preferably a ham steak
3 T butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup milk
1.5 cups flour
1 t salt
1 tsp flaked dried parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp flaked oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
For breading and frying:
3 eggs, beaten
1.5 cups of plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Chop the ham in a food processor or by hand until finely “ground.” Set aside.
In a large skillet, lightly saute the butter and onion over medium high heat, about 1 minute. Lower the heat to medium low.
Add in the milk and, stirring constantly, cook about 1.5 - 2 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and seasonings. Mix in the ham.
Add the ham and flour mixture to the skillet. Fold and mix until all of the ingredients are evenly combined with the onions and it forms a dough. Remove from heat.
Let the mixture come to room temperature. Place in a container or bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1.5 - 2 hours.
Once the mixture has firmed and cooled…
1. Shape individual croquettes into small cylinders, about 3 inches in length and 1 inch in diameter.
2. One at a time, dip the croquettes in the egg, and then lightly roll in bread crumbs.
Repeat the process so that all of the croquettes have been breaded twice.
3. Heat the oil in a frying pan to where the croqueta sizzles as soon as it touches the pan. If ever the oil starts to smoke, turn it down and wait until it cools off and proceed.
4. Fry the croquettes in small batches so there is room to roll them on all sides until they are golden brown, knocking out the edges so maintain a cylindrical shape.
5.  Serve warm. They may also be stored in the fridge and reheated in the oven.

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