My first encounter with New Orleans' famous muffuletta (pronounced "Muff-uh-lotta") sandwich occurred when I was about 7 or 8 years old during a family outing to the French Quarter.  Both of my parents are natives of the New Orleans area and we were frequent visitors to this colorful corner of Louisiana throughout my childhood.  However, we almost always stayed within the confines of the suburb of Metairie, where the nucleus of my extended family lived.  During this one memorable summer trip, my parents decided to act like tourists instead of natives.  So, we loaded up the station wagon and motored down to the Vieux CarrĂ©.

The "centerpiece" of our New Orleans excursion was a riverboat ride on the mighty Mississippi.  No, this was not a short excursion on one of those picturesque reminders of the days when stern wheel steamboats were the engines of economy for the central United States.  A cruise on the Natchez was exactly what my siblings and I wanted.  Instead, my parents apparently found some great deal on the modern river cruiser Jean Lafitte (apparently, this boat is no longer in operation -at least in the same capacity).  What resulted was a four hour trip down the Mississippi and into a few adjacent bayous.  I recall being very excited to be on an honest-to-goodness boat as we first left the dock. However, four hours trapped on a slow boat is akin to torture for an eight year old boy, and the novelty of the cruise wore off after about 45 minutes.  Recommendation to future New Orleans visitors with children: Ride one of the steamboats instead!

Thankfully, before we embarked on our four hour cruise, we did get a filling lunch!  We made a pilgrimage of sorts to the "Home of the Original Muffuletta": Central Grocery on Decatur Street.  Entering Central Grocery for the first time felt like I was stepping into another country.  I distinctly remember the "foreign" sights of dried, salted fish sitting in an open box (with flies buzzing around), as well as the cans of escargot - each topped with a plastic container full of snail shells.  The smell was also strangely intriguing to my young nose - a pungent and overpowering blend of fragrances that rode a fine line between sickening and pleasing (depending on which aisle I visited, no doubt).  When we ordered our sandwiches from the deli counter, I was most impressed with the sheer size of the Muffuletta.  I'm sure my 8-year old mind thought quite simply, "I'm going to eat the biggest sandwich ever!"

Since my family did not live close enough to New Orleans to hop down to Decatur for an "original" Muffuletta, we tried to play along at home and do our own version of this famous sandwich.  My mother has tweaked her recipe a bit over the years, but the version I present below is essentially the latest incarnation of my Mom's recipe.  Unlike the Central Grocery version, ours is served heated in order to melt the cheese and crisp the bread.  Our selection of meats is also a bit different from the Central Grocery original, but it is certainly still tasty.

The one indispendible ingredient for a muffuletta is olive salad.  I believe that, until recently, olive salad was only easy to find in the New Orleans area (or wherever there was a concentration of New Orleans "expats").  However, this does not appear to be the case any longer - Molly recently saw New Orleans olive salad in one of our local Kroger stores right here in Lexington, KY.  Also, a quick Google search revealed several internet sources for authentic muffuletta olive salad.  Since olive salad keeps well at normal temperatures in a sealed jar, ordering some over the internet is probably not a bad option (though, you should check your local supermarket just in case).  There are also numerous recipes for olive salad available on the internet (or, in my family) and it is relatively easy to make your own.  Luckily, I have an aunt who makes a batch every year and gives us a jar for Christmas.

If you want a truly authentic Muffuletta, you have to have Muffuletta bread.  The problem is that the large, round, seeded Italian loaf is not readily available outside of New Orleans.  Sure, there are mail order sources (like this one) who will ship the bread to you.  However, I'm not sure how well the bread can survive a cross-country trip.  DIY is certainly always an option if you're so inclined - internet recipes abound once again.  For me, the best second choice is a good loaf of french bread (that would make it a "Frenchuletta").  In our case, we happened to import the bread ourselves from a recent trip down south and stuck it in the freezer.  This is a good short term (month or so) alternative, but you need to be careful with freezer burn affecting the flavor of the bread.

click here for printable version

2 loaves of Muffuletta bread
~1 1/2 cup of prepared olive salad
1/4 pound thinly sliced deli Ham
1/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa Salami
1/4 pound thinly sliced Provolone cheese
1/4 pound thinly sliced Baby Swiss cheese
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for basting)

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  Next, slice your bread and open the two halves (we only had a loaf and a half for the photo session).  Baste both sides with a little extra virgin olive oil.

Next, place a generous layer of ham on the bottom half of your sandwich.

Continue with a layer of Genoa salami.

Next comes the cheese. First, a single layer of baby swiss....

...followed by a single layer of Provolone.

Now, place the sandwich in the preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted, the bread is slightly crisped, and the meat is warmed through. Be careful not to burn the bread, of course!

For the final step of assembly, spoon the olive salad onto the top of the melted cheese and "put the lid on" with the top piece of bread.

You probably ought to do a few mouth stretches before attempting to take a bite of this beast of a sandwich. Enjoy!