It’s nice to see that most stores are carrying pickling cucumbers in the produce section. That part of the culinary world has picked up nicely. Every site and book out there would be remiss if they were to leave out this old and venerable practice. I teach pickling at school and it is an important part of the restaurant industry, as are smoking and curing. They’re all the rage, as the kids like to say.
Making your own pickles is a lot easier than most of us chefs will let on, but I’m not going to write about that necessarily, as I just wrote about pickled mustard seeds and pickled onions recently. But do yourself the favor of practicing on some easy items such as pickled mustard, pickled onions et al.
OK, break my arm; I’ll talk about pickling again. Pickling can be as easy as pouring boiling vinegar, sugar, salt and garlic on sliced cucumbers letting them sit overnight. It can be as easy as simmering vinegar, sugar and julienne onions until the latter are cooked. Either way, a little effort can go a long way.
Of course, it can be much more complex, such as making a nice Giardiniera that can marinate for days before use. Marinated, grilled artichokes are a blast when done correctly, but again you’ll have to experiment on your own. Basically you can pickle anything, but for the sake of brevity I will discuss the mighty, simple pickle as we know and love it.
The pickling cucumbers that we see in the store are great for either pickling whole (this takes a long time), as spears (less time) or slices (very quick pickling process). And since the ingredients are so inexpensive, it is an obvious fact that one can practice many times over until they have perfected the proper pickle, precisely.
As I sit to write this, I have one of my favorite sandwiches in front of me, acting only as a vehicle for the pickles. Of course, that’s not entirely true, but I do need some sort of segue into a Cubano sandwich. You can’t have one without pickles, so I’ll just stick to that.
The Cubano has many incarnations, and I will hardly claim that this is the end-all. I would hardly be so presumptuous as to think myself an expert on Cuban food, let alone the ubiquitous sandwich named after the denizens of this amazing island country.
And while I’m on the country itself, am I alone or is anyone else out the chomping at the bit to fly to Cuba to try some authentic cuisine? I love Cuban food, and can only imagine that it tastes better in Havana. Mayhap Hemingway knew what he was doing all those decades ago when he crossed over for food, beer, fishing, his 15-acre estate and cigars.
Even though I’m in downtown Baltimore, I can’t help but think of Cuba on this 100-degree, high-humidity day. I’ll just pretend that I’m in Havana, or even South Miami Beach enjoying the sandwich known to many as the ultimate Cubano.
And while I know that most Cubanos don’t have bacon on them, it’s a happy addition. It’s pork, it’s salty, and it’s a natural fit to the already porky mound of delicious and savory flavor. Topped with a little Gruyere cheese (I know ‘normal’ Swiss cheese is preferred by many, but I like the stronger Gruyere to match the complexity of the pork and the pickles).
So as I wait for the storms to come across the Ohio Valley, I can’t help but think that I’m on deck of The Pilar getting ready to reel in one of the 1,000-pound monsters of yore. Alas, I’ll have to settle for a simple sandwich and a bottle of tea. It will simply have to do.
For whatever reason you decide is good enough to get back in the kitchen, make sure that you throw pickling into the mix. Our grandmothers did it. Some of our mothers did it, and there was good reason for it. And it’s not so much what you can pickle, but rather what your pickled goods can accompany – the raison d’etre of pickles.
The Not-so Cubano Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches
1 loaf French bread (soft, not crispy baguette)
Dijon Mustard, as needed
Mayonnaise, as needed
1/2 sliced smoked ham
4 slices Taylor Pork Roll
8 slices cooked bacon
8 slices Gruyere cheese
Pickles for a thin layer, as needed
Butter, as needed for cooking
1. Split the French bread so that it is still connected on the backside. Then cut it into four equal sandwich rolls.
2. Spread the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard on the bread and then pile on the meat and pickles, dividing these evenly.
3. Top with cheese and smash the bread together. And when I say ‘smash’, I don’t mean to pull out The Hulk and pulverize the sandwich. Just press it so that it can withstand the skillet or the panini press, whichever you’ll be using.
4. On a hot skillet or panini press, simply cook until the bread is crispy on the outside, and hot and gooey on the inside.
5. Serve immediately.