My dad was one of eight children, and his mother and father owned a general store and deli after escaping the New Jersey suburbs for a small town in Vermont, which is just to say — my grandmother knew how to make a big sandwich for a crowd.
I spent many summers in her kitchen preparing picnic lunches for two or three aunts and a circus of cousins to take to the lake. These large sandwiches became a staple of summer. They were filling, could be made well in advance, and traveled well. Over those summers I learned my grandmother's tricks for making a hearty sandwich for a crowd.
This sandwich for a crowd is not your typical party sub sandwich. It isn't built on a hoagie roll or baguette. A sub sandwich has its place at a party, but it doesn't pack well for a picnic, hike, or trip to the beach. Instead we're using a whole round bread loaf to build a sandwich that is protected by the bread and condiments themselves.
Choosing the Right Bread
Look for a large round, flat loaf in the one-pound-plus range. An eight-inch diameter is good for keeping the bread in proportion. Larger loaves are easier to find at a bakery than the grocery store, although most grocers will bake you a larger loaf with 24 hours notice. No soft Hawaiian roll around here! Pick something with a nice crust and a decent amount of chew — a country loaf, ciabatta, or Italian peasant bread will all do the trick.
Preventing Soggy Bread
One of the best things about this sandwich is that it should be made in advance. Brushing the bread with a thin layer of mayonnaise (or in this case, olive oil) prevents the bread from getting mushy. The fat acts as a barrier between the absorbent bread and wetter ingredients like tomatoes or lettuce.
Wrap and Rest This Sandwich
Tightly wrapping the finished sandwich in plastic wrap and refrigerating it for at least an hour before slicing does two things: It allows all the flavors from the meats, cheese, and vegetables to meld together, and it makes the sandwich much easier to eat. My grandmother always unwrapped the sandwich before we packed our cooler, cut it with a long serrated knife into wedges, and then rewrapped the whole sandwich in a large clean kitchen towel. We didn't need to pack a knife with us, and the presentation was beautiful.
How To Make a Sandwich for a Crowd
Serves 8 to 10
What You Need
round bread loaf or boule, (about 9 inches in diameter, 1 1/4 pounds)
olive oil, divided
thinly sliced deli ham, such as black forest
thinly sliced Genoa salami
thinly sliced provolone cheese
large tomato, thinly sliced
shredded iceberg lettuce (about 2 ounces)
red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Long serrated knife
Prepare the bread: Slice the bread in half horizontally. Remove some of the soft interior from both halves, but remove more from the bottom half than the top. You want to create a recess for the sandwich fillings to sit inside the bottom half.
Brush with condiments: Brush the interior of both halves with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. (You can also use mayonnaise or mustard instead.)
Layer the ingredients: Layer the meat and cheese inside the bottom half of the bread. Begin with the ham, followed by the salami, and then the cheese.
Add the veggies: Layer the tomatoes on top of the cheese, followed by the iceberg lettuce.
Season the sandwich: Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the vinegar over the lettuce. Season with salt and pepper.
Wrap and rest: Place the top half of the bread on the lettuce and press down lightly. Tightly wrap the sandwich in 2 layers of plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 1 day.
Slice and serve: Unwrap the sandwich and use a long, serrated knife to cut the sandwich into wedges.
Easy serving: Cut the sandwich at home, then rewrap for easy serving at the park or picnic.
Make ahead: This sandwich can be made 1 day in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
Storage: Tightly wrapped and stored in the refrigerator, leftovers will last up to 3 days.
Food Stylist: Christine Buckley