THE Cuban Panini
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Oh boy, this is it! THE Cuban Panini I’ve always wanted. It’s got the perfect balance of complex flavor, texture, and gooey goodness. Trust us when we say, the interesting combo of ingredients results in one amazing hot sandwich. Plus, you can make the fall-apart pulled pork in either the slow cooker or the Instant Pot.
When I tested these sandwiches years ago, I invited a neighbor friend and Polly over to taste test with me for lunch. We were all floored at how stinkin’ tasty the combo of ingredients on this panini were! My husband confirmed that these were a winner that night at dinner, too. (Yes, I ate them for two meals that day. And I’m still happy about that decision.)
It all starts with the citrus-infused, well seasoned pork shoulder that can be slow cooked in the Crockpot for hours…
…or that can be pressure cooked in the Instant Pot for under an hour. Both methods produce fall-apart tender, moist, and flavor-packed pulled pork. We include instructions for both methods in the recipe below.
What Ingredients Are in a Cuban Pulled Pork Panini?
Now, there’s a reason this sandwich that originated in South Florida (or is it Cuba?) is so popular. I’m telling you, this line-up of ingredients is stellar. In fact, did you know that this beloved sandwich is at the center of a long-running friendly rivalry between Miami and Tampa?
Here’s what ingredients you’ll need:
Pork shoulder – Also known as Boston Butt, this cut works well in both the slow cooker and Instant Pot and results in moist shredded pork.
Marinade ingredients for the pork – This includes fresh lime zest and juice, fresh orange zest and juice, garlic cloves, and seasonings (dried oregano, ground cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, and ground black pepper).The pork cooks in this marinade/rub and helps transform that cut of meat into something spectacular.
Ciabatta rolls or Homemade Panini Bread (and butter for the outside) – You can also use sourdough, a whole grain baguette cut into sandwich portions, or Cuban bread (if you can find it). Either way, the butter on the outside gets golden and forms a crunchy exterior as you press the sandwich down in the hot pan (or in a panini press).
Sandwich toppings – The classic Cuban (and our recipe) includes yellow mustard, Swiss cheese slices, ham (we opted for honey ham from the deli), and dill pickle slices. (There is some dispute about whether salami is part of a classic Cuban, but we decided to leave that one out. Feel free to include it if you want, though.)
What to Serve with a Cuban Pulled Pork Panini
For picky eaters, customize the sandwich only using the ingredients they like. Serve the hot paninis with sides, like:
Oven Baked Steak Fries
Make restaurant quality steak fries in your own oven. Healthier, too!
Fiesta Chopped Salad
This salad’s ingredients pair well with the citrusy flavors in the pulled pork. Serve with plain Plantain Chips (for a Cuban spin) or tortilla chips.
Mini Fruit Pizzas
Wouldn’t this be a fun dessert? Mix it up with some tropical fruit, like pineapple, mango, and strawberries to fit with the Cuban theme.
How to Make Cuban Paninis Into a Freezer Meal
These paninis make a great freezer meal kit. While you’re making one for dinner, why not double the recipe and freeze the components for another one for later? You know how much we love the Double Your Dinner concept for saving time in the kitchen.
Here’s how to make this a freezer meal kit:
Freeze For Later: Place the marinade ingredients and pork shoulder in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Seal, toss to combine, and freeze. Place the ciabatta rolls, cheese, and ham in separate freezer bags. Seal and freeze alongside the pork to create a meal kit.
Prepare From Frozen: Note: You will need to have butter, mustard, and pickles on hand to complete this meal. Thaw meal kit. Cook the pork in the slow cooker or Instant Pot. Build the sandwiches. Cook in a pan on the stove, pressing them down until golden brown on both sides and the cheese is melted.
What Else Can I Make With the Cuban Pulled Pork?
Try mixing things up and thinking outside the sandwich box with some of these ideas:
- Use the shredded pork as “carnitas” filling in tortillas. Top with your favorite Mexican toppings.
- Make quesadillas using the cheese, some shredded pork, chopped ham, and chopped dill pickles. Could even add a little of the mustard, too.
- Rachael Ray uses these ingredients to make an omelet! That would be fun to try.
Alright, it’s time to take a trip southward to sunny Florida while you enjoy these cheesy, salty, citrusy paninis. Mmmmm!
Did you make this? Snap a photo and tag us on Instagram at @thrivinghome so we can see your creations and cheer you on!
THE Cuban Panini
This Cuban Panini has the perfect balance of complex flavor, texture, and gooey goodness. Trust us when we say, this interesting combo of panini ingredients results in one amazing hot sandwich.
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- 3 garlic cloves, minced (You can mince the garlic using the zester/microplane.)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 (approx. 3 pound) pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth (for Instant Pot recipe only)
- About 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
- 8 ciabatta rolls, sliced open (or Homemade Panini Bread)
- About 1/3 cup yellow mustard
- 8 Swiss cheese slices
- 1/2 pound (8 ounces) thinly sliced honey ham
- 2 cups all-natural dill pickle chips or sandwich slices
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Make It Now:
- In a small bowl, combine the oil, lime zest & juice, orange zest & juice, garlic, oregano, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper.
- If making for the Instant Pot, cut the pork into four equal pieces (not necessary for slow cooker version). For both versions, pat the pork dry with paper towels and rub the seasoning mixture over all sides. (Freezing instructions begin here.)
- Cook the pork using one of these methods:
- Slow Cooker: Place the pork in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on Low for 7 to 9 hours or on High for 4 to 5 hours, until the meat easily shreds.
- Instant Pot: Add the four pieces of pork and chicken broth to the pot. Lock and seal the lid. Cook at high pressure for 45 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes (or longer, if you prefer), then quick release the remaining pressure.
- Transfer the pork to a cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat. Return the meat to the cooker and keep warm in the cooking liquid.
- Meanwhile, spread a thin layer of butter over the outside of each ciabatta roll. Open them up and smear the insides with mustard on both sides. Layer 1 slice of Swiss, a couple of pieces of ham, some warm pulled pork (use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove it from the cooking liquid), and a layer of pickles.
- Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Grill the sandwiches for a few minutes on each side, pressing down on them with a spatula or a heavy pan as they cook, until the bread is golden brown on both sides and the cheese has melted. Serve warm.
Freeze For Later: Follow Steps 1-2. Then, do the following:
- For Slow Cooker: Place the seasoned pork shoulder in the bag. Seal and freeze.
- For the Instant Pot: Place the seasoned pork and 1 cup chicken broth in the bag. Seal and set the bag inside a round container that’s about the diameter of the Instant Pot until frozen.
Place the ciabatta rolls, cheese, and ham in separate freezer bags. Seal and freeze alongside the pork.
Prepare From Frozen: Note: You will need to have butter, mustard, and pickles on hand to complete this meal.
- For Slow Cooker: Thaw meal kit. Follow Steps 3-6.
- For the Instant Pot: Thaw the rolls, cheese, and ham. Set the Instant Pot to “Sauté.” Cook the frozen pork for about 5 minutes to release the liquid. Press “Cancel.” Follow steps 3 through 6. (The frozen pork cooks in the same amount of time as fresh.)
Feel free to use sourdough, French bread, or a whole grain baguette instead of ciabatta rolls.
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