I fell head over heels in love with the muffuletta sandwich almost thirty years ago on my first visit to New Orleans.
Now, I can’t visit the Big Easy without one. (That and a beignet.)
Meat, cheese, and vegetables between two pieces of bread. What makes this sandwich special?
What’s a muffuletta?
Simply put: an iconic (and may I say epic) sandwich from New Orleans made from a flat, round loaf of sesame-seeded Italian bread about ten inches across, deli meats, cheese, and an olive salad.
The name itself comes from the old world name of the bread loaf itself. As a sandwich, it was created at the Central Grocery (on Decatur Street) in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo. When you go to there, you’ll hear it pronounced moo-foo-LET-uh.
I’ve had this sandwich in restaurants around the country. (No, Schlotzky’s doesn’t count — that’s not a muffuletta.) And I can say without hesitation that the real deal, in New Orleans, is way better and unlike anything else. But you can make it at home and, with a little love, get pretty close.
1st Annual Muffuletta Festival
The very first annual muffuletta festival was held in New Orleans in September 2017. Long overdue recognition.
In essence, it was a big neighborhood party with lots of people cooking food and playing music.
Yeah, okay, count me in.
Point being, there aren’t too many festivals out there dedicated to a single sandwich. Something to think about.
It starts with the right bread.
And the bread is unlike anything I’ve ever found been able to find locally, so I make my own. It’s originally a Sicilian recipe.
(I’ve had sandwiches calling themselves muffulettas where the bread is just wrong and they made me sad. I mean, maybe it’s still a good sandwich, but it’s not special.)
After trying several others, now I use a recipe from the 1986 cookbook Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson.
This is a recipe from the 1986 Cajun-Creole Cooking by Terry Thompson.
- 1 cup warm water (110°F)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Stir together the water, yeast, and sugar and set aside to proof the yeast. (It should be somewhat foamy if it's good.)
In your food processor using the dough blade, combine the flour, salt, and shortening.
With the food processor running, drizzle in the yeast mixture and let run until the dough combines into a ball. As the original recipe says, "It should be smooth and satiny."
Like any dough or batter, if it's too wet add a little flour. If it's too dry, add a little water.
Let the dough rise to twice its volume in an oiled bowl sealed with plastic wrap. This takes about an hour and a half to two hours mostly depending on the temperature in the kitchen.
On a greased baking sheet, flatten the dough into a ten inch round and recover with the plastic.
Scatter the sesame seeds over the dough and gently press them into it.
Let the dough rise for another hour.
Remove the plastic and bake in the middle of preheated a 425° oven for 10 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and bake another 25 minutes. The bread is done when you tap it lightly in the center and it sounds hollow.
And those Olives!
For me, it’s all about those lovely olives. I use as much as I can until it starts to fall out of the sandwich — then it’s perfect.
The olive salad combines chopped green and black olives, celery, cauliflower, carrots, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. The amounts vary from house to house.
Can I make my own? Yes. But my wife and I were at Costco for our monthly expedition and lucked upon a jar of muffuletta salad and I could not resist.
Don’t judge. The label was clean and I was sold. (I’ve since seen it in smaller jars too at various grocery stores around town. So keep an eye out.)
I added slices of salami, capicola, ham, and provolone. I could not find any good mortadella or I might have used that too.
And it’s a thing of beauty.
It is a lot of food so find some people to share the love. Better yet, make more than one and have a party.
Now if I could just get a pint of Turbo Dog locally to go with it…