How to Make Muffuletta

Muffuletta is a delicious Italian style sandwich that seems to have originated among Italian immigrants in New Orleans, Lousiana. The name of the sandwich comes from a type of sesame crusted, sturdy, round roll (also called a muffuletta) on which the sandwich is traditionally prepared. While today there are many different restaurants, mostly in the south and in New Orleans specifically, where you can buy your own muffuletta sandwich, the original location where the sandwich was produced is the Central Grocery store near Café Du Monde in New Orleans. Even to this day, you can go to the Central Grocery during lunch time to purchase a muffuletta sandwich (or any of a number of Italian specialty ingredients, as they are a fully functional Italian grocery store that has remained quite close to their original roots). But if you cannot get to New Orleans or you just want to play around with your cooking skills, then making your own muffuletta is your next best option, and it is quite simple! Unlike most foods however, when prepared at home the muffuletta will probably not be any healthier than when made in a restaurant, so do not try to make your own just to make it healthy - it is an inherently unhealthy (but delicious) sandwich that everyone must try at some point in time.


The Ingredients

There are not many ingredients in the muffuletta sandwich, so it is important that each type of ingredient be high quality in order to maximize flavor. The sandwich has three primary components: the olive salad, the filling, and of course the bread. Choosing each of these properly and preparing them accordingly will help you to create the most flavorful and authentic muffuletta sandwich that you can.

The Bread

As was mentioned above, muffuletta is traditionally prepared on muffuletta bread, which is a strong round roll with sesame seeds in the top. If you live near an Italian bakery then try to find a similar style roll there, but if you do not then make do with whwat you can find at your local baker or grocery store. The most important factor is that the bread by relatively hard, and not too absorbent. This will provide your sandwich with structural integrity which is important to prevent it from dissolving into a mess. Taste is also essential, of course, so make sure you are buying high quality bread in order to produce a high quality sandwich. And whatever you do, do not try to make muffuletta on sliced white bread. Not only will the bread by utterly flavorless, but the olive salad on the sandwich will soak right through the bread causing the sandwich to fall apart in a massive mess.

The Filling

The muffuletta is generally filled with a combination of pork based preserved meats as well as sliced cheese. When picking out the cheese for your sandwich, provolone or swiss would be good choices, however feel free to pick any cheese that you feel complements the flavor of sliced pork based meats. Do not pick anything too salty as this sandwich will already by awash with sodium, and do not pick American cheese for anything ever - it would be a crime against cooking. As for the meat, try to pick ~3 different types of pork based meat. For example, ham, salami, capicola, or sopressata are all good choices. Mortadella is also a classic, however it often contains pistachios which can be a problem for people with nut allergies who do not expect nuts to hide in their lunch meat, so make sure you know who you are cooking for. Again, quality is essential, especially at this step. There are many brands of salami or ham that are just intended to be low quality products tossed on a child's sandwich along with mustard and American cheese - these will not make a high quality muffuletta, and if you spend a few extra dollars on higher quality meats then your taste buds will thank you later.

The Olive Salad

The olive salad is a salty and oily component that provides the sandwich with most of its moisture and flavor, cutting through the richness of the meat and the bread with a bright and acidic flavor. If you live near New Orleans or a particularly nice Italian deli then you can probably find some good Olive Salad already prepared for you, however if you do not then it is not difficult to prepare. Naturally, as the name suggests you will want to combine some chopped olives (green are best in this case) with olive oil, along with a combination of other preserved vegetables. Common ingredients include preserved cauliflower, carrots, roasted red peppers, and capers. Each ingredient should be able to stand on its own in terms of flavor and or texture. Adding a few cloves of chopped garlic will further help to elevate the quality of your Olive salad. For best results, make your olive salad at least 24 hours before you make the sandwich itself, thereby allowing flavors to readily mingle together to create a superior olive salad.

The Preparation

As mentioned above, the first step in making your muffuletta should be the making of your olive salad. Chop up all your preserved vegetables into small pieces less than 1/2 inch in size, and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. For extra acidity and flavor, try adding a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to the mix. Then cover the salad and refrigerate it overnight to allow the flavors to mix together.

The next day, or whenever you are ready to make the muffuletta sandwich, you will find it is quite simple to do. Simply slice your bread in half, and if the roll is particularly bulky then you may want to create a small hollow in the center in which you can layer your meats and fillings. Then, lay down a layer of olive salad, followed by layers of alternating meats and cheeses until you find yourself out of fillings. Be sure to top the filling with the rest of your olive salad - no sense in letting any of it go to waste, after all! Then simply add the top slice of bread, slice the sandwich as you see fit, and prepare to enjoy a delicious homemade delight.

Eat and Enjoy

Hopefully you do not need much advice on the finer points of enjoying a good sandwich. If you purchased larger traditionally sized muffuletta rolls then there is no way you will be able to finish the whole sandwich yourself, so it would be wise to split it into halves or quarters so that you can share it with friends and family. In a pinch, you can also save half of the sandwich for lunch the next day, provided you wrap it up to prevent it from spoiling. Be aware, however, that if you used thin or absorbent bread then the liquid from the olive salad will likely begin to seep through the bottom of the bread overnight, resulting in a mushy sandwich that, while still delicious, may not be as satisfying as it was when it was fresh. If possible, try to assemble the muffuletta right before you eat them to maximize enjoyment while minimizing mess. While the sandwich doe not really need any side and it is frankly so unhealthy that any side would do little unless it were a spinach salad, serving this sandwich with potato chips and a pickle spear is certainly a classic way to present the sandwich. If you are in New Orleans or have access to them, try Zapp's Voodoo flavor chips, which are a local classic that you can sometimes find in specialty stores in other parts of teh country as well.

Hopefully your own home made muffuletta was a success! In the future, try playing around with different kinds of meats, cheeses, and seasonings to see how you can infuse the classic sandwich with interesting tastes from other regions. For example, perhaps you can incorporate asian spices, hot peppers, and picked daikon radish into the olive salad, creating a sandwich that will be a hybrid between a muffuletta and a banh mi. Your options are practically limitless. Of course, at some point in time make it a point to head to New Orleans so that you can try an authentic muffuletta for yourself. There is always a place for the classics, and the classic muffuletta can't be beat. If you have a nut allergy, steer clear of the Central Grocery (their sandwiches contain mortadella, which has pistachios in it) and instead head to Johnny's Po Boys, which is just a few blocks away and is arguably tastier for a nut free muffuletta. Enjoy!


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