The Republic of Cuba is an island country in the Caribbean. The Cuban Communist Party took over the country in 1959 and things haven’t been great between Cuba and the US ever since (don’t you love my flair for understatement?). So, as an American, I think I should probably keep my commentary on Cuba to a minimum. Even the “facts” that the Cuban government reports aren’t entirely believed by the US government, so let’s not get too diverted by politics. We do know that there are around 11 million people living on an area a little smaller than Pennsylvania. And, Cubans make some really yummy food.
We have a robust Cuban population living in the US, so it is easy to come by great Cuban food in the US. Of course once you start looking at Cuban food, you immediately hear about the Cuban sandwich. The Cuban sandwich is a pulled pork sandwich with ham, Swiss cheese and a mustard and mayonnaise mixture. A bunch of chefs have taken these ingredients and piled them on a burger and called it a Cuban burger, but that just sounded kind of boring to me. This is a richly diverse country with flavor influences from Spain, Africa and the Caribbean – seems like we can do better than a ham sandwich.
Further research uncovered an actual burger that was created by Cubans and is considered the burger of Cuba. It’s actually a slider vs. a big old burger. In keeping with my rule of thumb, I had to try making this burger. I also created a unique burger that incorporated the flavors of Cuba – so we had a wonderful burgerpalooza. My original recipe was for a pork burger with chorizo, mojo sauce, tomato, avocado – it was really delicious. But, as so often happens, the burger that the people regularly eat won out. Fritas are typically seasoned beef with ketchup and potato strings. Apparently some of the younger generation put cheese on the sliders, but they don’t need it. I added the mojo sauce for dipping as it was yummy and worked well with the flavors, but that’s strictly optional. You can use regular ketchup, but the seasoned ketchup adds a great flavor to the burger (and lots of little burger places have their own secret sauce, this is mine). The shoestring potatoes are excellent – make extra and eat them on the side. You can use the canned type, but they are a poor substitute – if you use those, you might as well use potato chips, no real difference. Please, please, try making the homemade version, you won’t regret it and they aren’t that hard to make, the hardest part is cutting them so small, the rest is simple.
At the end of the day, you get sliders that are packed with flavor, a little greasy and totally crave worthy – enjoy!
Cuban burger (makes 8-10 sliders)
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion ground in food processor
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
8 slider buns or dinner rolls
Spiced Ketchup (recipe below)
Potato Strings (recipe below)
Mojo Sauce (recipe below)
Mix first four ingredients until well combined. Place the mixture int he refrigerator and let the flavors meld together for about an hour. Portion meat mixture into eight portions and roll each into a small ball. Heat a large non-stick grill or non-stick skillet. Place the balls of meat in the hot pans them smash the meat down into a flat, thin patty. Grill until cooked through.
Grill the buns lightly. Place the patties on the buns; add the Spiced Ketchup and Potato Strings. Serve with the Mojo Sauce on the side.
½ cup ketchup (I use Heinz)
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
Put all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Heat through until bubbling. Remove from heat and cool a little, then refrigerate until ready to use.
4 Yukon gold potatoes
Clean the potatoes then cut into strips as thin as you can. I used a mandoline to slice the potatoes first then a sharp knife to cut the slices into strips. You can also use a julienne attachment on a mandoline if you have one (I don’t). Pour enough peanut oil to cover a medium sauté pan to about 1 inch depth. Heat over medium high heat until a potato string dipped in the oil bubble. Put a handful or two of potato strings into the hot oil (don’t overcrowd the pan as you will cool the oil and end up with soggy strings if you do). Using tongs gently toss the strings so that they don’t stick together and they cook evenly. When strings are golden remove from oil and place on paper towel to drain. Lightly salt the hot potato strings. These are best if used hot, but if they cool down a bit they’re still good. The strings should be crispy and more like a potato chip than a French fry.
6 sour oranges juiced – about ⅔ cup (you can substitute limes and ½ an orange)
8 cloves of garlic crushed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup olive oil
Put all ingredients except the oil in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly chopped and combined. Drizzle in the olive oil as the processor is running to create an emulsification. Refrigerate for at least an hour until ready to use. Note: you may be able to find commercially bottled Mojo sauce in the Latin section of your market – I found the bottled version terrible, it tasted of dried herbs and just wasn’t inspiring at all – the home made version is easy to make, so don’t go with the substitute. Final Note: sour oranges can sometimes be found in the Latin section of your produce department (if you’re lucky enough to have such a thing). They have very little juice and are very bitter. You can use about the same number of limes as a substitute and a little bit of orange juice if you want to get the orange overtone, but don’t use just regular oranges alone, they are far too sweet.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach