If you’ve ever been to Palermo, Sicily, you would have heard of pani ca meusa, one of the city’s most celebrated street food dishes alongside other favourites such as arancino and sfincione. This Sicilian sandwich is not for the fainthearted, with its fried slices of spleen and lung paired with caciocavallo cheese, its flavours are rich and strong, but once you get a taste of it, you will certainly be craving more. The original Sicilian spleen sandwich is difficult to find outside of Palermo, but the recipe is actually rather simple to follow for you to recreate at home! Read more to find out about the story behind the famous spleen sandwich and our step by step recipe for pani ca meusa.
Pani ca meusa has its origins as a poor man’s food that started over a 1000 years ago, when the Jewish population settled in and around Palermo city in Sicily. It was this local Jewish community that came up with a clever way to use the undesirable offal parts of the cow, such as the gut, lungs, spleen and heart, combining these ingredients with cheese and placing them in bread (the practice of using bread and cheese being a local tradition). Although a larger part of the Jewish community of Sicily left the region during the reign of King Ferdinand in the late 15th century, their customs remained, thankfully, giving the Sicilian people with one of their most beloved foods, the pani ca meusa.
There is really no other way to explain the explosion of flavours that comes from the combination of offal, lard and salty, semi-hard cheese – it is warm and cold at the same time, and rich and satisfying to taste. At the famous delis or street vendors in Palermo you will find the offal deep fried in lard, but of course you can substitute with oil if lard (or shortening) is difficult to find. We highly recommend that you try to find the caciocavallo cheese however: with such a short list of ingredients involved, each and every one is important!
1. Bring to boil 2 litres of water with a generous pinch of salt. Add the spleen and lung and let boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove, drain and let cool. Slice thinly and set aside.
2. Place the lard in a deep pan on high heat. Once hot, add the lung and spleen slices and deep fry for a few minutes until they appear crispy on the edges. Drain on kitchen towels and season with salt and pepper.
3. Split the buns in the middle, remove some of the soft bun in the centre to make space for the filling. Place an even amount of lung and spleen in each bun, followed by a squeeze of lemon and cheese. Enjoy warm!
Here are a couple of lessons in Sicilian dialect. Firstly, pani ca meusa, or pani câ mèusa, is how the Sicilian spleen sandwich is called in the local dialect, but in Italian this is actually called panino con la milza.
Secondly, when you decide to order the Sicilian spleen sandwich you will be asked whether you want the ‘married’ or ‘single’ version – beware, this has nothing to do with your own relationship status! The maritatu sandwich (meaning ‘married’ in Sicilian) is like the sandwich we present here, with cheese, referring to the ‘marriage’ between the cheese and the meat. For a spleen sandwich without cheese, ask for the schettu (meaning ‘single’) one instead!