Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Sandwich Chronicles

The last two nights I've made regional sandwiches for dinner... South Florida's Cuban Sandwich (and accompanying tostones (twice fried plantains), and Pittsburgh's Primanti Brothers Sandwich.

A Cuban sandwich is a variation of a ham and cheese originally created in cafes catering to Cuban workers in Cuba and in the early Cuban immigrant communities of  Key West and Tampa, Florida.   Later on, Cuban exiles and expatriates brought it to  Miami where it is also still very popular. The sandwich is made with  ham, roasted  pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, on Cuban Bread, a crisp crusted roll with soft interior.

When assembled, the sandwich is lightly toasted in a sandwich press called a plancha, which is similar to a  panini press but without grooved surfaces. The plancha both heats and compresses the sandwich, which remains in the press until the bread is crispy and the cheese is melted.   It is usually cut into diagonal halves before serving.

Primanti Brothers sandwich:
    Back in the 1930's, Joe Primanti opened a cart in the Strip District selling sandwiches to truckers on the go. It was decided that he should expand to a small restaurant on 18th Street. The hours were 3am to 3pm to accommodate truckers and the like. His brothers, Dick and Stanley, joined him along with nephew John DePriter who was the cook.

According to John, "One winter, a fella drove in with a load of potatoes. He brought a few of 'em over to the restaurant to see if they were frozen.
I fried the potatoes on our grill and they looked pretty good. A few of our customers asked for them, so I put the potatoes on their sandwiches." And the rest is history. 
The sandwich consists of your choice of meats, provolone, tomatoes, french fries, and a vinegar based coleslaw (recipe to follow) on thick slices of french bread.

  • 1 pound (about half of a medium-size head) green cabbage, shredded or finely chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the cabbage, sugar, salt and celery seed in a colander set over a medium bowl. Let stand at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours; the cabbage will be wilted (about 4 cups total). Discard the draining liquid in the bowl; rinse and dry the bowl, then transfer the wilted cabbage to the bowl. Add the oil and vinegar; toss to coat. Season with pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

I think the overall favorite with the family and myself was the Primanti Brothers..  the tart slaw was a nice counterpoint to the lush meats and cheese, and the salty fries...and the tomato was just the icing on the cake.

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