Only minutes after A1 Canteen opened in June 2018, its geologically stratified muffuletta became Sydney’s unofficial sandwich of choice. At least, that’s what it feels like. Italian immigrants invented the stacked, pressed sandwich in New Orleans early last century, using a centuries-old Sicilian bread also known, somewhat confusingly, as muffuletta. Clayton Wells, chef and co-owner at A1 Canteen, first met the sandwich through one of the waitstaff at Automata, his fine-diner across the road. “Glenda Lau makes birthday cakes and cookies for all the staff but she knows that I like sandwiches more than I like cake,” he says. “So for one of my birthdays she made me a muffuletta. It was the best thing ever.”

A traditional muffuletta is made with the airy, focaccia-like Sicilian bread of the same name, but after some experimentation Wells settled on Sonoma Bakery’s sourdough for its ability to maintain a crisp integrity when filled with ingredients. A single loaf hollowed out, rubbed with Dijon mustard and produces 10 serves. The kitchen gets through two or three loaves a day.

Meat and cheese
These sturdy, longer-lasting ingredients are kept closer to the surface, where they protect the fresher, more fragile salad and prevent it from sogging out the bread. There’s Italian provolone, double-glazed ham, more provolone, locally made mortadella and salami.

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Loads of raw spinach. Italian globe artichokes marinated in herbs, lemon juice and olive oil. Australian green and kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil. “It doesn’t need a side salad or a garnish,” Wells says. “It’s all already in the sandwich.”

The giant, overstuffed loaf is held down by a team of chefs who wrap it tightly in plastic. The bundle is then pressed between two large baking trays overnight until all the bulging layers neatly align horizontally.

The pressed loaf is baked at 200 degrees for 20 minutes before being returned to room temperature and sliced to order. “It’s just to crisp it up, to get rid of any moisture, so that it’s nice and crunchy when you bite into it.”

Surprisingly, this neat cross section is cut not by machine, but with a long bread knife (and considerable skill). Each serve weighs in at a hefty 250 grams.

This story originally appeared in print issue 18. It was updated on September 17, 2020. A1 Canteen is slated to close on October 20, 2020.