Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Mufuletta--and Zap(p's)

Coming from Philadelphia, the home of two of the world’s great sandwiches – the hoagie and the Philly Cheesesteak--Chuck and I are always looking for distinctive local sandwiches. While we have eaten and enjoyed many a Po’ Boy, we are also fond of a New Orleans Italian-American creation – the Mufuletta.

Salvatore Lupo, an immigrant from Sicily, is credited with developing the Mufuletta at his store, Central Grocery, in New Orleans. When visiting the Crescent City, we have had these sandwiches at Central Grocery, Progress Grocery, Napoleon House, and Liuzza’s. The latter two restaurants serve these sandwiches warm. Liuzza’s calls it a “Frenchuletta,” and it comes on a long rather than round loaf.

I took to the internet looking for the best Mufuletta in Lafayette, LA and found an extensive article from The Independent Weekly which outlined in some detail their survey of the “best” Mufulettas. Highly recommended was the sandwich from Cedar Deli, so off we went to this small grocery and deli that specializes in foods from the Mediterranean. We ordered a whole "mufalata" (as Cedar spells it) “to go” and ate three quarters for lunch and split the remaining quarter for supper.

A Mufuletta comes on a roughly ten inch round loaf of bread split horizontally and filled with salami, ham capicola, mortadella, mild provolone cheese and the taste secret – olive salad. Chopped pimento stuffed green olives and black olives (preferably calamatas) are mixed with chopped celery, cauliflower, and carrots and mixed with olive oil and seasonings.

Cedar’s sandwich proved to be a fine example of the art of the Mufuletta and especially noteworthy was the olive salad. Spread directly on the cut surface of the bottom half of the loaf, the olive oil had just soaked into the bread, infusing this with the flavor of the oil, olives, and seasonings, by the time we got home. I am glad that I bought a large jar of their salad for sandwiches down the road.

The Mufuletta was eaten with Zapp’s chips – the finest potato chip ever made. These thick and crunchy chips are made in Gramercy, LA and come in a variety of flavors. My favorite is the Spicy Cajun Crawtators – chips seasoned with crawfish boil style seasoning. We discovered these on an earlier trip to Louisiana and have been known to have a case shipped to Wycombe when I crave a taste of Louisiana.

One of the crops we have seen in many of the fields south and west of Lafayette is sugar cane. These stalks grow as high as 8 to 12 feet. When ripe, the canes are cut down close to the ground and stripped of the leaves, which are left to shelter the roots through the winter. This trash is then burned or plowed under. The lowest part of the cane is richest in sugar.

When sugarcane is harvested (right), it is stripped of its leaves and sent to the sugar factory. At the factory, the stems are crushed and shredded by rollers in a process called grinding. During grinding, hot water is sprayed over the shredded material to extract the remaining sugar. The solid waste that is left after extraction of the sugar is known as pulp or sugarcane bagasse, which is dried and used as a fuel.

A quick sugar primer: Cane syrup, molasses and brown sugar all start with the juice squeezed from sugar cane stalks. To make sugar, the juice is spun in a centrifuge; pale amber crystals rise to the top, becoming sugar; the brown solids sink to the bottom, becoming molasses.

These "cans" contain 16,682 gallons of pure cane syrup.

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