Muffaletta―With Don’t-Miss Olive Salad―is Just 1 of Taps’ Famous 50

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I attended a sandwich seminar recently, part of Taps Fish House & Brewery and sister restaurant The Catch’s “Famous 50” sandwich series, where the restaurants feature a different classic creation each week at lunch throughout the year. I got a kick out of telling my family about it, mostly because I’m kind of a freak about the subject—construction, ingredients, and especially seasoning, and my husband and son are deeply familiar with my detailed theories. Not to mention, the resulting sandwiches.

Turns out, Taps owner Joe Manzella and culinary director Tom Hope are totally in my camp, down to their fondness for using custom bread and rolls from rock star baker Dean Kim of OC Baking, who consults with Hope for each sandwich in the series. The seminar’s bread talk went notches beyond Pluto, to proofing and hydration, what’s appropriate crust-wise, and the need for structural integrity. As always happens when chatting with Kim, I got a bunch of good hints to apply to my home baking. Manzella and Hope have a five-point list of criteria in pursuit of perfection: ingredients, bread, ratios, condiments, and the oft-ignored eatability—if it’s meant to be picked up, it has to hold together.

One of the sandwiches we tried was the Maine lobster roll ($20), which was so popular during its Famous 50 week that it was added to the regular menu for a time—and might return, if lobster prices cooperate. I know I’ll be waiting. On an intensely buttery brioche roll that somehow manages to be simultaneously ethereal and sturdy, filled with tender meat from whole lobsters Taps flies in fresh, it was pretty much the best ever. I wish I’d tested it for my September issue lobster roll Smackdown.

The New Orleans muffaletta, slathered with a correctly garlicky olive salad, was also delicious. Little seen outside its French Quarter home, it brought back memories of arriving in New Orleans on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, dropping our bags at the hotel, and running to Central Grocery, possibly the muffaletta’s point of origin. We pulled icy Dixie beers out of the cooler in back to accompany. The olive salad on the sandwich we brought on the train home perfumed the entire car.

Now, thanks to the generosity of the Taps team, we can have a fabulous muffaletta any time. The olive salad in particular is not to be trifled with—slathered on the meats and cheeses (layered in the specified order) some kind of alchemy happens. It ain’t a muffaletta without it. (Make the salad a day in advance so flavors can blend.) The OC Baking roll that Taps uses is a large, round, softly crusty Italian type with sesame seeds, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Central Grocery original. You can substitute another roll or small, soft loaf, but these are easy to order from OC Baking (714-998-2253) at least two days in advance, with pick-up at the Old Towne Orange Farmers & Artisans Market on Saturdays. A 6-pack is $3.

Here’s the sandwich recipe, including olive salad:

Muffaletta Sandwich from Taps Fish House & Brewery

(For 1 sandwich)

2 ½ to 3 ounces thin-sliced Genoa salami

2 ½ to 3 ounces thin-sliced honey ham

3 thin slices provolone

3 thin slices mozzarella

2 ½ to 3 ounces thin-sliced mortadella

¾ cup olive salad (recipe follows)

Soft, 5 1/2-inch round sesame roll or similar

Slice roll in half horizontally. On bottom half, layer in order salami, ham, provolone, mozzarella, mortadella, and olive salad. Replace top and cut sandwich in half crosswise.

Olive Salad for Muffaletta

(Makes about 1 quart)

1 cup pitted black olives, chopped

2 cups pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped

½ cup cauliflower florets, blanched 1 minute

½ cup small-dice carrots, blanched 1 minute

½ cup small-dice red onion, blanched 1 minute

½ cup small-dice roasted red peppers

¼ cup sliced pepperoncini peppers

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons capers

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon celery seed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup olive oil

¼ cup balsamic or red-wine vinegar

Gently mix ingredients in large bowl and taste for seasoning. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Keeps for 2 months, refrigerated.

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