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Bobby Flay Goes Cuban

Go anywhere in Miami, and Cuban influence is everywhere, certainly in the local cuisine.

With The Early Show settled in South Beach as the Super Bowl draws near, the show's resident chef, Bobby Flay, stopped by some of the most authentic Cuban-inspired eateries in the Little Havana section, all musts for anyone wanting a taste of Miami. Among them: Tinto y Café and Versailles.

Tinto y Café is at the center of Little Havana and is, Flay says, "reminiscent of a little Havana cafe the 1940s."

Flay's friend, fashion designer Eddie Rodriguez, a Cuban who's lived in Miami for years, called Versailles "the most famous place in little Havana."

Flay also offered easy recipes for his version of the perfect Cuban sandwich, and more.

Cuban cuisine is the fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with a little Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. A traditional Cuban meal wouldn't be served in courses; rather, all food would be served at the same time. The meal would consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja (beef), pork with onions, milk, and tropical fruits.

Traditional Cuban cooking is primarily peasant cuisine with little concern about measurements, order, or timing. Most of the food is sautéed or slow-cooked over a low flame. Very little is deep-fried, and there are no heavy or creamy sauces. Most Cuban cooking relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano and bay laurel leaves.

Many dishes use a sofrito as their basis. The sofrito consists of onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and ground pepper quick-fried in olive oil. The sofrito is what gives the food its flavor. It's used when cooking black beans, stews, many meat dishes, and tomato-based sauces.

Meats and poultry are usually marinated in citrus juices, such as lime or sour orange juices, then roasted over low heat until the meat is tender and literally falling off the bone.

Another staple of the Cuban diet is root vegetables such as yuca, malanga, and boniato, which are found in most Latin markets. These vegetables are flavored with a marinade, called mojo, which includes hot olive oil, lemon juice, sliced raw onions, garlic, cumin, and a little water.

FOOD TERMINOLOGY:

Mojito: A traditional Cuban drink. Some would say it's the unofficial national drink of Cuba. It is an alcoholic drink made of rum, sugar, lime juice, crushed mint leaves, soda water, and shaved ice.

Cuban sandwich: also known as the "cubano," it's a popular meal in South Florida, where many Cubans have settled. The standard Cuban sandwich consists of ham and roast pork marinated in mojo sauce (garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and orange juice), mayonnaise (not included in the original), mustard, dill pickles, and Swiss cheese on Cuban bread, which is a light French bread. In Tampa, it is common to find Genoa salami on a Cuban sandwich, as well.

For Flay's recipes, to go Page 2.

RECIPES:

Cuban and Medianoche Sandwiches

Serves: 8

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 loaves Cuban bread or sweet Cuban bread
1/2 cup prepared mayonnaise
4 cloves roasted garlic, pureed
1/2 cup Dijon or ball park mustard
16 slices boiled ham, thinly sliced
16 slices Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
4 whole dill pickles, sliced thinly
2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly softened

1. Whisk together the orange juice, lime juice, oil, garlic, and oregano in a large baking dish, add the pork and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Place the pork in the pan and cook until golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Continue cooking on all sides until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes longer. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook the pork until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the pork registers 150 degrees F. Remove to a platter and let rest 5 minutes before slicing into 1/4-inch thick slices.
3. Whisk together the mayonnaise and roasted garlic in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.
4. Slice the bread horizontally in half, leaving 1 edge intact. Lay the bread open and spread each side with the mayonnaise and the mustard. Divide the ingredients evenly among the slices of roll. Start with the ham followed by the pork, cheese, and dill pickles. Bring the tops and bottoms together.
5. Heat your panini maker or sandwich press. Butter each side of the press. Place the sandwiches inside, press down and grill until the cheese is melted and the bread is flat and browned, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. If you don't have a sandwich press, you can heat bricks wrapped in foil, in a 500 degrees F oven for 1 hour and then press the sandwich between them for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Mojito
Yields: 1

1 teaspoon superfine sugar
4 springs fresh mint
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
2 ounces light rum
Splash of club soda
Ice cubes

Place sugar and mint in a tall glass and using the back of a spoon, mash the mint leaves into the sugar. Add the remaining ingredients and serve.

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