If you’ve never had a Muffuletta, or if you love a good Muffuletta, now you can make one at home. This post has the recipe for the Muffuletta olive salad that I use to make these unbelievably good sandwiches; I also tell the story of when I discovered the Muffuletta, when I started making them regularly, and the memories that this amazing sandwich evokes for me.
A traditional style muffuletta sandwich consists of a round loaf, split horizontally and covered with layers of marinated olive salad, mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham, and provolone. Quarter, half, and full-sized muffulettas are sold. The combination of meats and cheeses doesn’t make it sound so special; anyone can make a Dagwood sandwich, right?
What makes these sandwiches so special is the olive salad that acts as the condiment spread for them. Olives are combined with the pickled vegetables found in a typical giardiniera. Giardiniera is just pickled cauliflower, celery and carrots (and sometimes other things like red pepper and jalapeno or peperoncini). Then, you add garlic, fresh chopped oregano and olive oil; those all rest in the refrigerator for about 24 hours to allow all the flavours to meld.
The first time I had a Muffuletta was in New Orleans (where this sandwich originated), on a business trip back in the 80’s. I just couldn’t believe how delicious it was, or why I’d never had one before then. I thought I’d died and gone to sandwich heaven! I was absolutely stuffed after finishing my quarter-serving Muffuletta, but I wanted more. That desire has not changed any time I’ve eaten one since.
When I returned from that trip, I wanted desperately to replicate that sandwich. This was back in the stone-ages, pre-internets, and it wasn’t possible to easily research a recipe. Fortunately, I have a very good ability to discern ingredients in foods I have eaten, so I got very close to the traditional olive salad on my first attempt. I think the only thing I missed that first time was the fresh oregano.
Since then, I have made Muffulettas frequently; I used to make them as a guide lunch for our business, back when I did the cooking for our fly fishing trips and schools. The reason a Muffuletta is perfect for such lunches is that it doesn’t contain mayonnaise that might go bad if left un-refrigerated; this making it a perfect picnic sandwich.
There are so many facets to my life, and I’ll have to say that fly fishing (and fishing for tarpon, in particular) ranks right up there with my love of food and cooking. While I don’t work at our shop any longer (I ‘retired’ at the end of January after 18 years of doing that), I do still teach our beginner fly fishing classes. And that brings me to a story…the story of how I started fly fishing, how I came to my quest for giant tarpon and how the Muffuletta plays into the story.
I started fly fishing in 1991. It was a fluke, really, the way I got my start. Mr. Saucy and I were dating then; the property we now live on has a small stream flowing through it and Mr. Saucy had stocked it with trout. Because he fed them, they were monsters. We even gave them names. For instance, Bad Ass was a 24+ inch trout that lived under the “lunker bunker” (a bank stabilization structure we’d built). Anyway, Mr. Saucy was wanting to show off the new girlfriend to one of his buddies and he took me down to the stream for my first outing. I caught an enormous fish and was immediately “hooked.”
After we married, we got involved in the fly fishing business and I progressed in my fishing abilities. Eventually, I decided to learn to teach fly fishing and took many classes and private instruction with some of the greatest and best known fly fishermen (and women) of our time. I wasn’t a very good distance caster still, since I didn’t need to know how to cast very far to fish where we do, here in the Smokies.
The desire to cast a long distance came the first time we were invited to fly fish for tarpon in the late 1990’s. A friend of ours, who was a sales-rep for a company we bought products from, invited us to Islamorada in the Florida Keys to fish for the Silver King. Of course, I didn’t catch one on that trip, heck, I was afraid to catch one as I had no idea what to do if I should. But I wanted to catch one. In the worst possible way.
When we returned home, I started watching every video I could lay my hands on; I read every book I could read about tarpon fishing. I wanted to be prepared the next time we went. I wanted to catch a tarpon…I needed to catch a tarpon. The best thing I found was a video done by Billy Pate, the then world-record-holding tarpon fisherman.
I wish I could insert his accent for you to hear, Billy is from the Lowcountry in South Carolina, so his accent is pure gold in this (he pronounces tarpon as: tah-puhn), but here’s the observation he made in that video:
“In the quest for giant tarpon, you need physical strength, but you must be mentally tough as well…your will to win must be greater than the tarpon! And the TARPON….thinks…HE’S… gonna …DIE!”
So, long story short…we went back to another place to fish for tarpon; I hooked a tarpon and promptly lost it. On our third tarpon trip, I landed my first tarpon (we released him, of course) and we went tarpon fishing every year for many, many years. Here’s a picture of me and our long-time guide and friend, Doug Cole, as we prepare to land a monster tarpon I’d caught:
So, how this story relates to Muffulettas…every year I would mix up some of the olive salad for Muffulettas for our boat lunches before we left home. We would make the long journey by car to our fishing destination, loaded down with all of the fishing and camera equipment Mr. Saucy could imagine. Every year, our guide would shake his head in amazement that first morning at the dock at the pile of stuff Mr. Saucy would tote along, all of which would need to find a spot in the boat. Our guide called it “Mount Begley.” The one thing our guide wouldn’t complain about was the Muffulettas I’d made for us, stowed in the cooler.
Now, every single time I eat a Muffuletta, I am transported to the bow of a flats boat, with the feeling of anticipation of the possibility of giant fish, exciting times and great memories.
Start your Muffuletta memories with this easy and delicious Muffuletta olive salad recipe. If you’ve never had one, you won’t believe how awesome this sandwich is.
- FOR THE OLIVE SALAD:
- 1- 5 ounce jar green olives with pimentos, drained
- 1- 16 ounce jar giardiniera (pickled cauliflower, celery and carrot-I use Mezzetta brand hot mix that contains jalapeno peppers), drained
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- FOR THE SANDWICH:
- 1 round loaf of bread (I used mini French boules for this one), baked until the outside crust is crisp, cut horizontally removing the top third of the loaf, inner bread hollowed out leaving about 1 inch of bread attached to the crust.
- Hard salami slices
- Ham slices (I used baked ham)
- Mortadella slices (if you can't find mortadella, use whatever other luncheon meat you prefer)
- Provolone cheese slices
- Mozzarella cheese slices
- Combine the olives, giardiniera, garlic and oregano into a medium-sized bowl.
- Remove about ⅔ of this mixture to a food processor (or blender, or just to a chopping board).
- Pulse until you have a finely minced mixture.
- Slowly drizzle in olive oil.
- Return the minced mixture to the bowl of whole vegetables (I do it this way since I like some bigger chunks of vegetables in mine, you can mince all of the salad if you wish).
- Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- TO ASSEMBLE THE SANDWICH:
- Take the hollowed bread round an spread the salad mixture in the bottom and the top of the loaf.
- In the bottom of the loaf, layer the meats and cheeses on top of the salad mixture until you have filled the cavity in the bread.
- Place the top of the loaf onto the filled bottom, and cut the loaf into half, or quarters,depending on its size.
- You can wrap these pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate..these sandwiches hold very well for several days.