When you visit New Orleans, a “must do” activity is to visit the Central Grocery Store in the French Quarter and purchase a muffuletta sandwich for lunch. This Italian po-boy is unique to New Orleans; not found anywhere else. Last fall, my son and I purchased a muffuletta and walked to the Mississippi River for a leisurely lunch. The po-boy boasts a unique Italian olive salad spread. Here’s how to make your own.
New Orleans-style Muffuletta
A muffuletta is an Italian-style po-boy which is unique to New Orleans. It is made with a crusty round Italian bread loaf topped with sesame seeds and filled with meat, cheese and a delicious olive salad spread.
Central Grocery Store
My son and I purchased our muffuletta at the Central Grocery Store on Decatur Street in New Orleans in the French Quarter. This is a interesting grocery store, full of imported foods and novelty items. Inside there was a line of both tourists and locals waiting to purchase po-boys.
When we arrived at the cashier, the clerk handed us a half-muffuletta loaf wrapped in paper. (The sandwiches are always sold wrapped in some sort of newspaper or butchers paper.) The clerk didn’t even asking how much we wanted. Guess he knew from experience–and a fourth of a loaf turned out to be just the right amount for each of us. The store is a couple of blocks from Jackson Square, The French Market and the Mississippi River. We walked to the levee on a warm, breezy autumn afternoon and ate our sandwiches.
Historical Origins of the Muffuletta
New Orleans is a melting pot of individuals from many countries and cultures. Around the turn of the century, the city had a large influx of immigrants from Sicily who were fleeing their country due to hard times. These immigrants were merchants, they worked on the docks, they were street peddlers with push-carts. Some were bakers and others were farmers who sold their produce at the French Quarter Farmer’s Market.
Although many groceries, restaurants and deli stores sell muffuletta sandwiches today, the Central Grocery claims to be the originator in 1906. Dana Logsdon, of New Orleans Historical, wrote a nice summary.
“One such grocer was Mr. Salvatore Lupo, of Central Grocery store, who is widely credited with making the first muffaletta sandwich in 1906. According to his daughter, Marie Lupo Tusa, farmers would stop in at her father’s shop at lunchtime, buy a loaf of muffuletto bread, sliced cold cuts, olives and cheese, and eat them standing up or balanced on their laps. In order to make it easier for customers to hold everything, Mr. Lupo decided to put all the ingredients together on a sandwich. The sandwich was not called by the name “muffaletta” at first, but eventually, the name of the bread carried over to the name of the sandwich.”
Dana Logsdon, “Muffaletta Sandwich,” New Orleans Historical, accessed February 10, 2016, http://www.neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/505.
And so we have had muffuletta sandwiches in this city for over a hundred years. There are many spellings to “muffuletta” and many explanations as to the origins of the word — a type of Italian bread loaf (muffoletta), a type of mold–(“muff”), the scrapings from the bottom of olive barrels on the docks (John Folse’s explanation). For consistency, I’ll use the Central Grocery spelling of muffuletta.
Of course the sandwich has to have salami and ham. Italian cheese, Provolone cheese, is an essential ingredient. Mortadella is an Italian cold cut or sausage. Emmental Swiss cheese is a medium-hard yellow Swiss cheese.
Olive Salad Spread
The key to the sandwich, in my opinion, is the olive salad. This marinated salad spread soaks into the course-textured Italian bread adding a unique olive taste. It compliments the deli meats and cheese. The spread is sold in grocery stores in New Orleans and the surrounding area. It consists of marinated vegetables–carrots, celery, cauliflower and onions–as well as olives, olive oil and seasonings.
Make your own Muffuletta Po-boy
It’s not difficult to make your own muffuletta po-boy. My husband tasted the sandwich that I had made and thought it tasted identical to the one sold at the Central Grocery. I adapted the meats, cheese and olive salad to my tastes. Still it tastes remarkably similar to the original one.
Start with a loaf of round Italian bread. Locally, this bread is sold in Italian grocery stores and bakeries–such as Gambino’s Bakery. If you don’t have round loaves, then traditional elongated French bread can be used.
Select the meats and cheese. These can be adapted to taste. Italian cold cuts such as salami and mortadella are traditional ones, but leaner meats such as smoked turkey can be used. For this sandwich, I used salami, ham and Provolone cheese.
Make the olive salad spread. The olive salad traditionally has green and black olives, carrots, celery, cauliflower, onions, pepperoncini peppers, capers, olive oil and seasonings. But the spread can be adapted to a person’s tastes. I’m just not exited about carrots and celery in the spread and omitted them. Here are the vegetables that I used.
In addition to muffuletta sandwiches, the spread can be used as a dressing with pasta or a lettuce salad.
Layer on the olive salad spread, meat and cheeses. A loaf easily serves four people. So figure about 2 oz meat and 1 oz cheese per person, or 8 oz meat and 4 to 8 oz cheese total. This seems like alot of meat and cheese, but if you skimp, you will be eating just bread.
I like toasted, hot sandwiches, so I broiled/toasted the bread and meat in the oven (just like a Subway sandwich). Alternately, the sandwich can be served cold. Either way, combine the halves, cut in fourths, walk down to the Mississippi River (or outside) and enjoy a homemdae muffuletta sandwich.
Homemade Muffuletta with Italian Olive Salad Spread by MayleesKitchen
Muffuletta Sandwich Ingredients:
- 9″ – 10″ round loaf of Italian bread (8 oz loaf)
- 4 oz sliced salami
- 4 oz sliced ham
- 4 oz Provolone cheese
- 1 cup Italian Olive Salad Spread (purchased or homemade)
- Olive oil for drizzling on bread
Italian Olive Salad Spread Ingredients:
- 1/3 cup marinated pearl onions, drained
- 1/3 cup marinated cauliflower, drained
- 2 Tbsp capers, drained
- 2 pepperoncini peppers, drained
- 2 sweet banana peppers, drained
- 1/2 cup chopped black olives, drained
- 1/2 cup sliced green olives with pimentos, drained
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 tsp ground oregano
- 1/4 tsp celery salt
Method and Steps for Italian Olive Salad Spread (makes 2 cups):
- With a small food processor/chopper or by hand, chop marinated pearl onions into bite size pieces. Chop cauliflower into small pieces. Set onions and cauliflower aside.
- Slice pepperoncini peppers and sweet banana peppers lengthwise, remove seeds. Chop finely.
- In a medium bowl toss and combine chopped black olives, sliced green olives with pimentos, chopped pearl onions and cauliflower, chopped pepperoncini peppers and sweet banana peppers.
- For the dressing, in another bowl combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, thyme, basil, oregano and celery salt. Whisk to combine the dressing and pour over the combined salad ingredients. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.
To assemble muffuletta sandwich:
- Slice the loaf of round Italian bread crosswise. Place halves, cut side up, on baking sheet
- On one half, spread on 1 cup Olive Salad Spread. On the other half, drizzle on olive oil.
- Arrange slices of salami and ham on each half.
- Place the baking sheet with the sandwich on oven rack, 6″ from heat. Broil until the meat is hot and the bread is toasted.
- Add on the Provolone cheese and broil for 30 seconds – 1 minute until the cheese is melted.
- Remove from oven, combine the two halves together. Slice into fourths. Serve.
Dana Logsdon, “Muffaletta Sandwich,” ,accessed February 10, 2016, http://www.neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/505
The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine, by Chef John. D. Folse, CEC ©1989, Chef John Folse and Company, Publishing, Gonzales, Louisiana.
“What is on the Muffaletta Sandwich” Copyright © 2006-2015 A9.com, Inc., askville.amazon.com/muffaletta-sandwich-originate/AnswerViewer.do?requestId=10158548