It’s December 23 2008. 50 degrees maybe. Sunny for sure. My wife and I step out of our hotel onto Royal Street in the French Quarter. We stroll up and down the old streets shopping and taking in the buildings, the balconies, the history that’s happened there. By 11:00am we were tired and starving since we had a late night but wanted an early start to take in as much as we could. Most restaurants seemed to have been closed at this time of day. We came across a small cafe. I forget the name and exactly where it was. We stepped in, scanned the menu. My wife went for one of her favorite meals, the chicken salad sandwich. I stared at the muffuletta.
What’s a muffuletta? I never heard of it. The woman said it’s Italian meats with an olive salad. So I got it.
There may be only a few times in your life when you realize something great just happened. Something amazing. I had already liked New Orleans before we went on our trip, but being there, I fell in love with the city. It’s an absolutely amazing and special place. I will always love New Orleans. Biting into that muffuletta just happened to seal that love for me. I was blown away. I had never had anything like it before in my life.
Once we got back to the Detroit area after our vacation, all I could think about was that muffuletta. I knew it was something I wanted to make. And that muffuletta was the one single dish that got me started on wanting to make New Orleans food. I knew of gumbos and jambalaya but it was more Zatarain’s style straight from a box type of thing. I never cooked from a laundry list of ingredients before. Over the years, I tried different recipes and after playing around with flavors, I made a version that I loved – I was back in that cafe on Decatur Street again.
If you’re unfamiliar with the muffuletta, the place to get one at is at Central Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. They are the originator’s of the “The Original Muffuletta“. Central Grocery is the old Italian market that was given credit for inventing the muffuletta back in 1906. In Marie Lupo Tusa’s cookbook, “Marie’s Melting Pot“, she tells the story of the sandwich:
“The muffuletta was created in the early 1900’s when the Farmers’ Market was in the same area as the grocery. Most of the farmers who sold their produce there were Sicilian. Every day they used to come of my father’s grocery for lunch.
They would order some salami, some ham, a piece of cheese, a little olive salad, and either long braided Italian bread or round muffuletta bread. In typical Sicilian fashion they ate everything separately. The farmers used to sit on crates or barrels and try to eat while precariously balancing their small trays covered with food on their knees. My father suggested that it would be easier for the farmers if he cut the bread and put everything on it like a sandwich; even if it was not typical Sicilian fashion. He experimented and found that the ticker, braided Italian bread was too hard to bite but the softer round muffuletta was ideal for his sandwich. In very little time, the farmers came to merely ask for a “muffuletta” for their lunch.”
Chuck Taggart, from The Gumbo Pages, points out:
“It’s also a bit of a lesson to those who think the only cultural and culinary heritage of New Orleans is French, Spanish, African and Creole. You ask folks about the quintessential sandwiches of New Orleans, and many people will immediately reply “po-boy”, but the muffuletta is as New Orleans as any po-boy you’ll ever eat, and there’s nothing Creole about it. This is pure Italian, and pure Sicilian if you want to be specific. New Orleans, in its population and its cuisine, owes much to Italy and especially Sicily; Italians have been coming to the Crescent City since the 1880s. It wasn’t always easy for them — one of the worst lynchings in American history was a massacre perpetrated upon a group of Italians in New Orleans in 1891. The Italians soon settled in comfortably into New Orleans culture, and we are the richer for it. Their contribution to local culture and cuisine has been immeasurable; in fact, you frequently see “Creole-Italian” referred to as one of the local sub-cuisines. This kind of cooking is epitomized at places like Mandina’s, Liuzza’s, and the many places in the city that serve muffuletta sandwiches.”
I love a good dressed roast beef po’boy, but I’d take a Central Grocery muffuletta any day. They are so good that I have one of the wrappers framed over my stove. I just don’t understand how could a sandwich this good not be known outside of New Orleans? Subway should have a version. No I’m kidding. They shouldn’t.
The next time that you take a trip down to New Orleans, get yourself the real thing with a Barq’s Root Beer and a bag of Zapp’s. There’s truly no comparison. My recipe is a great interpretation but you need to get one on a muffuletta loaf – and that can be impossible outside of New Orleans. And whatever you do, never make it on Ciabatta bread.
I hope that you enjoy my version of the muffuletta. Let me know what you think of it in the comments below.
1 Italian loaf bread (unless you can get a muffuletta loaf)
Olive salad (see my recipe below)
1/2 lbs genoa salami
1/2 lbs hot capicola
1/2 lbs mortadella or ham
10-12 slices of mozzarella cheese
10-12 slices of provolone
Cut the loaf in half. Brush both sides of the bread with the olive oil from the olive salad.
From the bottom up, layer genoa salami, mortadella/ham, mozzarella cheese, hot capicola, provolone cheese, then more genoa salami.
Top with the olive salad. Cover with the top of bread. Cut the loaf into serving sizes. With a standard Italian loaf I can get 6-8 sandwiches out of it depending how hungry I am when I slice it up.
ERIC’S OLIVE SALAD
1 1/2 cups green olives, crushed
1/2 cup black kalamata olives, pitted, crushed
1 cup giardiniera (pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery), chopped
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
1/8 cup celery, chopped fine
1 tbsp green onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp oregano
3 1/4 tsp garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups olive oil
Combine all the ingredients together after they have been crushed and chopped in a large mixing bowl. Make sure that everything is well mixed together. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. I usually make the olive mixture a day before I intend to make it so the flavors have enough time to meld together.
The leftover olive salad mix can be stored in jars in the refrigerator for months. They can be used in plenty other recipes also. There is usually enough of the olive salad to make two batches of muffuletta on an Italian loaf.
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