Cooking With Fire: Muffuletta Sandwich

Mar 22, 2019

Credit Justin Cary

The muffuletta sandwich may have Italian roots, but it is truly a New Orleans original.

The story goes that Italian immigrants living in New Orleans served cold cut sandwiches out of their grocery stores starting in the mid-19th century, and over the years the muffuletta recipe became standardized.

These days the most popular spot to grab a muffuletta is at Central Grocery in the French Quarter. This century-old shop not only popularized the sandwich, but also refers to themselves as "muffuletta headquarters." But what makes the muffuletta different from other Italian sandwiches?

Well, the bread recipe itself comes directly from Sicily, and this large loaf, which is reminiscent of focaccia bread, has a solid structure that holds everything together, but unlike focaccia it isn't flavored with oregano, thyme, or basil, but instead is a simple mix of flour, salt, sugar and yeast that is topped with sesame seeds — like a really large, and dense, hamburger bun.

The other fillings are simple with layers of salami, mortadella, ham, and then Swiss and provolone cheeses. At this point it sounds a lot like an Italian sub, but the topping condiment — an olive salad that is a secret recipe of Central Grocery — is where the sandwich gets its big kick of flavor.

The olive salad is similar to a classic Italian giardiniera, but the addition of kalamata olives to the recipe really sets it off. The briny olives, some peppers, celery, carrots, onions and more make up a salad that is swimming in vinegar and oil, and that is what truly makes the muffuletta unique. And although we don't know their exact recipe, in this episode Chef Tom and Josh Cary discuss the muffuletta as well give their recipe on how to make this classic New Orleans dish.

The Muffuletta Sandwich

8 servings

For the Muffuletta bread:

  • 1 cup warm (105ºF) water
  • 4 tsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tsp dry active yeast
  • 13 oz (1 1/4 cup) all purpose flour 
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds

 For the olive salad:

  • 1 cup giardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrots & celery), chopped
  • 1/2 cup pimento stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pepperoncini, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

 For the Muffuletta sandwich:

  • 2 loaves muffuletta bread
  • 8 oz sliced mortadella
  • 8 oz sliced Genoa salami
  • 8 oz sliced ham
  • 6 oz sliced mozzarella
  • 6 oz sliced provolone

Instructions

  1. Combine the warm water and yeast and 2 teaspoons of the sugar in a cup and mix well to dissolve the sugar. Let sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture starts to foam. Transfer the mixture to the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. 
  2. Combine the flour, salt and remaining sugar in a container and mix well. Mix until the dough looks smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size.
  3. Remove from from the bowl and divide in two. Roll each half into a ball. Place in greased 8” cast iron skillets. Cover with plastic and allow to double in size again.
  4. Preheat your grill to 400ºF, set up for indirect grilling.
  5. Remove the plastic wrap from the skillets. Gently brush the surface with more of the olive oil. Sprinkle the tops of the loaves with the sesame seeds. 
  6. Bake the muffuletta loaves until the dough is cooked through, the top is golden in color, and the bottom is lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Remove from the grill and let cool before slicing horizontally.
  7. To make the olive salad, combine all ingredients, except the extra virgin olive oil, in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until you reach your desired consistency. Add the olive oil and toss to coat. Transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
  8. To assemble the sandwich, place a layer of olive salad on each half of the loaves. Layer the sliced meats and cheeses over the olive salad. Flip the top half of the loaf (also coated with olive salad) onto the sliced meats and cheeses. Divide the sandwich into four portions.
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