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Muffelettas

There are four main components to a muffeletta: bread, olive salad,
meat, and cheese.

The Bread

The perfect po-boy is all about the bread. If you use good French
bread, everything else tends to fall into place. While the bread
is important for a muffeletta, the other ingredients are equally
important. Good French bread can mask inferior ingredients on a
po-boy, but bad olive salad is bad olive salad, and nobody's Italian
loaf is going to disguise that. The three big bakeries for
muffeletta-style Italian loaves are United Bakery on St. Bernard
in Gentilly, Leidenheimer's on Simon Bolivar in Central City, and
Gendusa's on N. Rampart. All three of these do excellent bread.
You can buy United's loaves at grocery stores all around the metro
area and Gendusa's at Italian groceries like Nor-Joe's in Metairie.
Leidenheimer's makes most of their Italian loaves for restaurants
and other commercial customers. The average Italian loaf is 10"-12"
in diameter. Leidenheimer's makes an 8" individual loaf that many
places use as well.

The Olive Salad

In New Orleans we order our sandwiches either "dressed" or with
"nutinonit," meaning that they either have lettuce, tomato, pickles,
and mayonnaise, or none of these things. (For more on "dressed"
and other New Orleans terms, check out The Yat Lexicon at
http://www.yatcom.com/neworl in the Lifestyle section.) One dresses
a muffeletta, but not with the traditional po-boy fixings. A muff
has Italian Olive Salad on it, in generous quantities, with lots
of extra virgin olive oil drizzled over both salad and bread.
Italian Olive Salad is a mixture of green olives, black olives,
carrots, cauliflower, and herbs, all marinated in red wine vinegar
and extra virgin olive oil. Fortunately for those of us who don't
want to attempt making our own olive salad, Central Grocery now
sells their own by the jar. That's not the only place that makes
a good olive salad, of course, but it's the one I know is available
from various places on the 'net.

The Meats

There are three meats usually found on a muffeletta sandwich: Ham
-- I would suppose that muffs in earlier days were made with
Prosciutto or some other smoked ham, but these days you'll find
regular boiled ham on 'em (that's expensive enough at $5-$6 a
pound).

Salami -- This is usually "hard" or Genoa salami, as good a quality
as you can get (domestic is OK here, of course).

Mortadella -- The premier sausage meat from the city of Bologna,
mortadella is essential to the classic muff. It's important to
realize, however, that mortadella is not the same as the bologna
you buy in the grocery. Don't substitute that Oscar Meyer stuff
for mortadella--your bread will never forgive you.

You'll need about 1/2 pound of each for a 12" muff loaf. Don't
panic on the quantity--this makes a loaf that can serve 2-4.

Cheese

Mozzarella and Provolone, and you'll need 1/4 pound each. Again,
domestic OK, go with as good a quality as you can find/afford.

Assembly of the Loaf

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Slice the loaf into top and bottom
halves, and heat them for 2-4 minutes in the oven. When the bread
is warm and lightly toasted, you're ready to assemble the sandwich.
Place the mozzarella on one side, the provolone on the other, and
allow the heat of the bread to melt the cheese. Begin laying out
the meat on the bottom half. There's no special order here. I
usually do salami, then mortadella, and then ham. Spoon the olive
salad onto the top half, being sure you drizzle a good bit of the
olive oil from the salad onto the bread. (If the olive salad you
purchase is light on liquid, add some of your own extra virgin
olive oil to it, then dish that up.)

What happens next depends a great deal on who's making the sandwich.
Some folks like their muff thoroughly heated, where others are
content to simply put the two halves together and go from there.
As mentioned in the introductory article, the big danger with
heating the entire sandwich is the increase in oiliness. You're
dealing with three meats that will get greasy when heated, and
you've already heaped a good bit of olive oil onto the bread.
Heating those meats up will increase the grease content, but if
you like a hot sandwich, so be it. I prefer to use meats that are
at room temperature rather than straight out of the 'fridge, and
let the heat from the bread do the rest. Of course, if you want
a cold (non-heated) muff, there's no controversy--just put the
thing together and go for it. When everything is assembled, cut
into quarters and serve.

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