Recipes: Beyond the Cuban sandwich

Clockwise from top: Bistec de Palomilla and French Fries, Serrano Ham and Bechamel Croquetas, and Fricassee de Pollo con Papas (Chicken Fricassee with Potatoes). Food styling by Ozzy Llanes and Alex Valdivia / Chris Hunt/For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Cuisine to make at home includes chicken fricassee, Palomilla steak, ham croquetas.

The Cuban sandwich is an American invention, a pressed sandwich of roast pork, ham and Swiss cheese with salami if you’re a fan of the Tampa version and no salami if you’re a Miami purist. Fortunately, whichever style you prefer, Ozzy Llanes of Cubanos ATL in Sandy Springs has you covered. And if want a version with no pork at all, he’s got that, too. It’s called El Pollo.

When he opened his sandwich and coffee stand in August, there were people standing — socially distanced — in line right from the start. “That gave folks lots of time to stand there and talk about which version was their favorite and maybe talk about the distance between Tampa and Miami,” he remembers as he laughs about the rivalry between cities as the real home of the Cuban sandwich.

The limited menu — sandwiches, coffee, a few extras — for Cubanos ATL isn’t the long-term plan. “When we get a bigger kitchen, we’ll have more Cuban favorites. We’ll be serving some of the things my parents still make, the flan and croquetas I grew up with, Palomilla steak, stewed chicken with tomatoes and potatoes, served over white rice. We Cubans love our carbs on carbs.”

Llanes smiles when he says the vegetable that’s most popular in his parents' household these days is the pickle that goes in the Cuban sandwich. “We didn’t grow up with salads. If we cut up an avocado, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, that counts as a vegetable side dish.”

Osvaldo Llanes (father, from left), Ozzy Llanes (son) and Amarilys Llanes (mother) are shown with several Cuban dishes: (from left) Fricassee de Pollo con Papas (Chicken Fricassee with Potatoes), Palomilla Steak and French Fries, and Serrano Ham and Bechamel Croquetas. The photos were taken at the home of Ozzy Llanes, owner of Cubanos ATL. Food styling by Ozzy Llanes and Alex Valdivia / Chris Hunt/For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

He came to the United States with his parents, Osvaldo Llanes and Amarilys Llanes, in 1995. “My dad is the youngest of seven and most of my uncles and aunts came to the States in the ’60s and ’80s, which were the big time for Cubans to move here. My family started the paperwork to come here in 1986, and it took almost 10 years for the paperwork to be processed.”

They lived and worked in Miami until Ozzy moved to Atlanta 10 years ago. His parents came too, and live nearby.

“My mom would tell you she’s not a fan of cooking, but they cook every day. They don’t seem to know they could go to a restaurant three times a week. That’s just not their mindset. So they cook. My dad’s specialty is the beans and my mom does everything else. Black beans, red beans. They remember eating that way in Cuba, and when it was a good day, the beans would be garbanzos. But my favorite dish that they make is the Palomilla steak with french fries and rice.”

When Llanes decided to open his restaurant, he wanted to start small. Cuban sandwiches and coffee. That’s what they would do. “Honestly, our success has been surprising. We didn’t know if we would get the Latin community, the Cuban community. But we know our coffee and use the best beans, the best machine so we can compete with the big guys. Everybody started showing up. Some just to be sure I could speak Spanish. Neighbors. People of all different backgrounds.”

From left: Alex Valdivia (best friend of Ozzy Llanes), Osvaldo Llanes (father), Ozzy Llanes (son) and Amarilys Llanes (mother) are shown with several Cuban dishes: (from left) Fricassee de Pollo con Papas (Chicken Fricassee with Potatoes), Palomilla Steak and French Fries, and Serrano Ham and Bechamel Croquetas. The photos were taken at the home of Ozzy Llanes, owner of Cubanos ATL. Food styling by Ozzy Llanes and Alex Valdivia / Chris Hunt /For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Cubanos ATL opens at 8 in the morning and serves coffee and Cuban toast. “You add butter or cheese and you dip it in the coffee. And the toast is pressed. Everything is pressed. I’d press the clients if they’d let us.”

Llanes says pressing the bread is what brings it to life. There are ham and cheese croissants available in the mornings, too, topped with a sweet glaze. And yes, they’re pressed.

RECIPES

Chef Ozzy Llanes and his parents, Osvaldo Llanes and Amarilys Llanes, share recipes for their style of Cuban home cooking.

Fricassee de Pollo con Papas (Chicken Fricassee with Potatoes). Food styling by Ozzy Llanes and Alex Valdivia / Chris Hunt/For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Fricassee de Pollo con Papas

Amarilys Llanes prepares this dish in a pressure cooker. We adapted it as a stovetop braise for those without pressure cookers or Instant Pots.

Complete Seasoning, or Sazón Completa, is generally a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, cumin, dried parsley and dried oregano. You may find it in the Hispanic foods section of your grocer, but you will certainly find it at a Hispanic market.

Fricassee de Pollo con Papas
  • Olive oil
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 4 chicken legs
  • 4 cups 1-inch diced potatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 5 to 10 garlic cloves, as desired
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 packet Complete Seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • White rice, for serving
  • In the bottom of a Dutch oven, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Working in batches, add chicken pieces and saute chicken until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Do not crowd pot. Remove chicken from Dutch oven and set aside. Repeat until all chicken is browned on all sides. Stir in potatoes, onion, tomato sauce, garlic, wine and seasoning. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. Stir together, then return chicken to pot. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat until mixture simmers and cover pot. Cook until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Remove lid and, if needed, continue cooking until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Serve over rice. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving (not including rice): 675 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 63 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 32 grams total fat (8 grams saturated), 321 milligrams cholesterol, 771 milligrams sodium.
Bistec de Palomilla and French Fries. Food styling by Ozzy Llanes and Alex Valdivia / Chris Hunt /For The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Bistec de Palomilla and French Fries

Sour orange juice (naranja agria) may be sold in the Hispanic food section of your grocer, or you may need to go to a Hispanic market. Otherwise, use a mixture of orange juice and fresh lime juice. Using top sirloin and marinating it as the recipe directs is the key to tender beef that melts in your mouth.

Bistec de Palomilla and French Fries
  • 1/2 cup sour orange juice, more if needed
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt plus more for seasoning potatoes
  • 1 1/2 pounds top sirloin, sliced lengthwise 1/4-inch thick
  • Vegetable oil, for sauteing steak and cooking potatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 white potatoes, cut into julienne strips
  • White rice, for serving
  • In a medium bowl, stir together sour orange juice, fresh garlic, garlic powder and salt. Add steaks. If needed, add more orange juice so meat is covered. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • When ready to cook, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and coat bottom with oil. Remove steaks from marinade and cook in hot skillet until brown on one side, about 1 minute. Turn and cook on second side. Do not crowd skillet and do not discard marinade. As steaks are done, remove from skillet and put on a plate. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm and continue until all steaks are done. Do not wash skillet. Add onion to skillet and saute until it starts to soften.
  • In a medium saucepan or deep skillet, bring marinade to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add steaks, any accumulated juice from the plate where they were resting and the sauteed onion. Cook 5 to 10 minutes or just until steaks are tender.
  • While steaks are cooking, in a Dutch oven, heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Add potato strips, but do not crowd oil. Fry potatoes until golden, 6 to 10 minutes depending on the size of the strips. Remove from oil, drain and sprinkle with salt. Continue until all potatoes are cooked. Serve steaks, onions and fried potatoes over rice. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving (not including rice): 443 calories (percent of calories from fat, 48), 27 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 24 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 85 milligrams cholesterol, 228 milligrams sodium.
Serrano Ham and Bechamel Croquetas. Food styling by Ozzy Llanes and Alex Valdivia / Chris Hunt /For the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Serrano Ham and Bechamel Croquetas

These croquetas were great for dinner, but reheated for breakfast? They satisfied any cravings for a crisp, savory treat. Our advice? Try not to eat them all in one sitting. Save some for breakfast.

Serrano Ham and Bechamel Croquetas
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 pound 1/4-inch diced serrano ham
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs, or more if needed
  • Chopped chives, for garnish
  • Make croqueta mixture: In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in 1/2 cup flour and then slowly whisk in milk, beating continuously to prevent lumps. When mixture is smooth and thickened, add diced ham, salt, bay leaf and nutmeg. Cook 2 minutes, then remove from heat and taste for seasoning, adding pepper to taste. Cool mixture, then move to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • When ready to cook, in a pie plate, whisk egg. In another pie plate, add breadcrumbs. In a third pie plate, put remaining 1/4 cup flour.
  • In a deep saucepan, add oil to a depth of 3 inches. Heat to 350 degrees.
  • Remove croqueta mixture from refrigerator. Discard bay leaf. Scoop mixture into 1-by-2-inch cylinders, about 1/3 cup each. Roll each cylinder in flour, then egg, and finally in breadcrumbs. Put in oil and fry until golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Do not crowd saucepan. Remove from oil, drain and put on serving platter. Repeat with remaining croquetas. Sprinkle with chives just before serving. Makes 12.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per croqueta: 221 calories (percent of calories from fat, 62), 7 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 15 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 50 milligrams cholesterol, 489 milligrams sodium.
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