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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

The classic shooter's sandwich is made by stuffing cooked steak into a hollowed out loaf of bread along with sautéed mushrooms and onions, dressing it with mustard and horseradish, then wrapping it tightly and pressing it overnight under very heavy weights. You end up with a sort of portable version of beef Wellington the next day, ready to be sliced into wedges and eaten on a picnic (or a hunt, as the case may be). But as impressive as it may be on paper, we discovered the sad reality by making the absolute best version of the original shooter. It fails at the most basic job of any great sandwich: the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts.

But the idea of a party-sized, ultra-pressed sandwich is so appealing that I've spent the last few weeks brainstorming and testing recipes for versions of shooter's-style sandwiches that actually work. All this week, I'll be sharing them with you. Click through here for more shooter's sandwich coverage, or jump down to my general shooter's sandwich tips for some quick-and-dirty details.

Muffuletta Shooter's-Style Sandwiches

I'm going to go ahead and declare the Muffuletta King of sandwiches. The New Orleans classic is made with layers of cold cuts and provolone cheese on a sesame seed-studded muffuletta loaf, dressed with a punchy olive salad. Typically, it gets wrapped in plastic and is allowed to rest for at least an hour or so to let the bread soak up some of the oil and vinegar from the salad. When you compress the same sandwich shooter's-style, it elevates the whole affair, forcing flavors to mingle even more than they normally do.

The Ingredients

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Real muffuletta bread is tough to find outside of New Orleans, but this fantastic sesame loaf from Sullivan Street Bakery worked remarkably well. I also have a third of a pound each of imported mortadella, sweet sopressata, hot capicola, and sharp provolone, sliced thin. In the bowl is a cup and a half of classic New Orleans-style olive salad, made with olives, capers, roasted red peppers, pickled Italian vegetables, garlic, parsley, and oil and vinegar.

Step 1: Remove the Top

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Use a bread knife to take the top off the bread. You're going for just the top here, not slicing the bread in half. The goal is to create a "boat" out of the bottom half, into which you'll stuff your ingredients.

Step 2: Cut Around the Bottom

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Use the bread knife to cut around the inside of the bottom half. You don't want to cut all the way through the bottom crust, just through the tender crumb.

Step 3: Scoop

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Scoop out the crumb with your hands. It should come out cleanly, leaving you with a boat to stuff.

Step 4: Layer Ingredients

I start with a thick layer of olive salad...

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...followed by mortadella and sopressata...

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...then capicola and provolone. All aboard the meat boat! I couldn't get the theme song from The Love Boat out of my head.

♫ The meeeeeeat boooooat! Soon we'll be stuffing another bun! ♫ The meeat booooat! ♪ Pressed sandwiches for everyone!! ♫

And now it is stuck in your head. You're welcome.

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For best flavor distribution, you want to build at least three full layers of each ingredients so you'll end up with very thin layers of each, rather than large blocks of cheese and meat.

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Top it all off with more of that olive salad.

Step 5: Close Sandwich

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Cover the sandwich with its hat, pressing down gently with your hands to ensure that all the ingredients fit. Wrap the sandwich tightly with butcher's paper or aluminum foil.

Step 6: Weight and Wait

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Place the sandwich between two firm cutting boards, then place a very heavy object on top of it and let it sit for at least 4 hours and up to overnight (check on it occasionally to make sure it hasn't toppled and is pressing evenly!)

Step 7: Slice and Serve

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When you're ready, slice the sucker open and dig in. The intense pressure should have compressed all of the layers until there is no air at all left inside, leaving you with a solid wall of flavor. It's as if someone took a muffuletta and concentrated all of its already intense flavors, which makes sense, as that's exactly what we've done.

Now THIS is a sandwich fit for a picnic (or let's be real: it's also a sandwich fit for your Sunday afternoon lie-about on the couch).

» Get the full recipe here!

Shooter's Sandwich Tips

Here are some general tips for helping you design your own shooter's-style sandwiches.

  • Use hearty bread. You want bread with a significant, hearty crust, especially if you have any kind of moist fillings. It's going to take a beating.
  • If it doesn't belong in a normal sandwich, it doesn't belong in a shooter's. There's nothing magical about the shooter's process that makes things you typically wouldn't put in a normal sandwich suddenly viable. I'm looking at you here, entire un-sliced steak.
  • Go heavy on flavorful garnishes. Compression does make flavors marry better, but it can also make some layers nearly disappear, particularly garnishes like pickles, relishes, and dressings. Go extra heavy on them if you want your sandwich balanced in the end.
  • Wrap in foil or paper, not plastic. Forget the plastic wrap, use heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher's paper to wrap your sandwiches. You're going to be putting them under a lot of pressure.
  • Press hard, but not too hard. I press my sandwiches between two cutting boards and weight them down with big books. There is such thing as too much weight. I hit this breaking point when I put an entire desk along with a dozen or so bottles of full liquor and a computer on top of one. It got so compressed that the small amount of juices inside were squished out, turning the bread soggy.
  • Don't let it topple! Keep an eye on the sandwich at the beginning: as it compresses, the cutting board may topple. You can use smaller books or other supports make a fail safe in case you have to leave.
  • Leave it at room temperature. Officially, I think it'd be unwise for me to recommend leaving a sandwich out at room temperature for 4 hours or overnight. Unofficially, I can tell you that I've never heard of anyone getting sick from a shooter's, especially with such strongly flavored ingredients (the things that taste good to us—salt, acid, sugar—also happen to make inhospitable environments for bacteria). You can refrigerate if you're squeamish, but bread goes stale faster in the refrigerator. Your sandwich will taste better at room temperature.
  • Consider heating. Some sandwiches taste better warm, especially if there's cooked meat or melty cheese in there. I warm my sandwiches directly in their foil wrapper in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes. You can also take off the foil before warming if you want a crisper crust.
  • Slice while wrapped. The foil or paper wrapper can help keep your sandwich nicely shaped and perfectly held together during the slicing and serving process.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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