Cast Iron

Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich

by:
May  6, 2021
22 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
Author Notes

I spent a portion of summer after college graduation “backpacking” (we duffle-bagged) through Europe with three of my best friends. We had a detailed itinerary which included a brief two days on the French Rivierra. Somehow, two days stretched to seven—you know how it goes when you’re 22 and joie de vivre rules the brain. Due to budget constraints, we picnicked quite a bit. That is where I first tasted the pan bagnat.

The pan bagnat is the sandwich version of the salade Niçoise. You can find either in various forms all over the Mediterranean coast where it is made with fresh seasonal ingredients.

Here, olive oil packed canned tuna is mixed with olives, red onions, fresh herbs, and vinaigrette. The salad fills the center of a crusty French baguette. In this case "crusty" is the operative word. The bread must have a hard crust on the outside otherwise it will fall apart. Pan bagnat literally translated is "wet bread"—the point is for the vinaigrette to soak into the bread. In my opinion, that is what makes this such a great sandwich.

Years and many salade Nicoises later, I thought about making a pan bagnat to take to a tailgate. The key is the olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. It brings all the ingredients together, including the crusty bread. When you make it, be sure to use tuna in olive oil and let the sandwich “rest” overnight so the bread soaks up the vinaigrette flavors.

I still make pan bagnat every summer at the beach. We aren’t in Nice, but it sure tastes like it. —Waverly

Test Kitchen Notes

Pan Bagnat, literally "bathed bread," is a great solution to the brown bag lunch dilemma, and Waverly's version is pitch-perfect. A decidedly Nicoise tuna salad is pressed between two garlic and oil slicked halves of a baguette and left in the fridge overnight, which allows all of the juices to soak into the bread. We chose to include both of the optional ingredients—crisp green beans, briny artichoke hearts—and were glad we did. The resulting sandwich was a glorious riot of colors, flavors and textures. - A&M —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich
  • Prep time 8 hours 10 minutes
  • Serves 2, but multiplies easily
Ingredients
  • 1/2 loaf crusty French baguette
  • 1 clove garlic, cut in half
  • 4 to 6 basil leaves
  • 1 (6oz) can tuna
  • 3/4 cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 jar or can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup blanched French green beans, sliced into thirds (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. PREP THE BREAD: Slice the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the insides of the bottom half to create a trough into which the filling will go. Brush both halves with a little extra virgin olive oil. Rub each with the garlic. Line the half with the trough with the basil leaves.
  2. MIX THE SALAD: In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red bell pepper, onion, parsley, artichoke hearts (if using) and green beans (if using). In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the olive oil until it is emulsified/combined. Pour the vinaigrette into the tuna mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. ASSEMBLE: Spoon tuna mixture into the trough of the baguette over the basil leaves. Wrap sandwich well in plastic. Crush it down by placing a brick or heavy cast iron skillet and refrigerate, preferably with the weight, overnight.
  4. SERVE: In the morning, cut sandwich in half. Enjoy for lunch at home or wrap in foil and brown bag it (use a lunch box that will keep the sandwich chilled). Serve with cubes of feta cheese and a tart Granny Smith apple.
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Waverly used to be a lawyer and is now a mother 24/7. She has made a commitment to cooking for her family and absolutely loves it even when her family does not. She is teaching them, one meal at a time, to enjoy wholesome homemade food. She abhors processed food but recognizes its insidious nature and accepts the fact that her children will occasionally get some Skittles, Doritos, or the like. Her philosophy and hope is that if she teaches them well at home, they will prefer wholesome healthy foods when they go out into the world without her.

128 Reviews

Pat October 22, 2020
This sounds delish! I wonder if you used artichokes packed in olive oil or packed in water-- only glass jars tho!
 
Tori S. September 9, 2020
I had some leftover tapenade and used that in place of the olives. I really liked the artichokes and fresh parsley in this. My proportions of th eingredients were different than the recipe, but I don't think that mattered. Very tasty, this has gone into my keepers file.
 
amy.d.cutting November 25, 2019
We loved this! It made more than expected but that's never a bad thing. Very easy to put together and perfect for lunch the next day. I also like that if there's an ingredient I don't like (like the red peppers), I can just leave them off my side and toss a few extra on my other halves side!
 
jpriddy July 25, 2019
Wrapping in baking parchment is likely safer that aluminum foil. Use capers. Roasted tomatoes or peppers are nice.
 
Peg W. July 25, 2019
"Safer" in what respect?
 
Aimee S. June 15, 2019
I've made this many times. Sometimes I mix in pasta. You don't have to have every single ingredient, but when you do it's delicious!!
 
Kathy S. May 14, 2019
Made this last night and just had it for lunch at work. By far the best sandi ever. The flavors meld together nicely. (I had to eat it mid morning because I couldn't wait until lunch.)
 
Denise M. March 28, 2019
I made this and it was great. Put some togarashi and used mint instead of basil because that’s what I had. As others said is incredibly messy. Could use more lemon I think.
 
Jackie D. February 11, 2019
I've already made this superb sandwich twice, once for my girlfriends and another time for my family. Both times a hit. Just love it and of course you can and must change it around to make it at your pleasure, but the basic idea is fantastic!!!
 
Ann January 24, 2019
Unlike everyone else, we found this sandwich missing something, which is strange given the long, delicious ingredient list. It just had no zip, not enough depth of flavor. If we make it again, we will definitely use roasted red peppers and something, either a spice or sauce, to add heat. Very bland as is.
 
Denise M. March 28, 2019
I put some togarashi in mine to spice it up. It tastes very clean. It’s in the fridge right now. We’ll see how it goes.
 
Jan June 28, 2019
There are usually capers in this sandwich in France. Use the good capers, dry packed in salt, not the brined ones. Rinse well as the other ingredients are already salty.
 
Margaux January 15, 2019
Absolutely delicious! Came together perfectly, I skipped the green beans but the artichokes were key. Added a little extra parsley and lemon/oil emulsion for an extra zest I preferred.
 
Cheryl September 16, 2018
Loved this! Made using smashed chickpeas instead of tuna (I eat vegan) and used this delicious and flavorful dressing: http://thevegan8.com/2018/06/28/vegan-caesar-smashed-chickpea-sandwich/
Put it over salad greens with cut cherry tomatoes; added the artichoke hearts. Would add more green beans next time.
 
Regine September 7, 2018
Wow. I have to confess I was really skeptical about a French bread sandwich that you prepare overnight. But this sandwich for sure gets way better if you do prepare it overnight with something heavy on top of it to flatten it. I just had it for lunch at work and it was delicious. 3 things though! 1) You could easily use this quantity of filling for a full instead of half a baguette. 2) Rather than rubbing the garlic on the bread, crush it and mix it with the tuna. In fact, use more than 1; I used 3. 3) Add a bit of hot sauce or some crushed spicy pepper (i.e., habanero, serrano) if you like your sandwich a bit hot. I look forward to making it again. Also, I did not have green beans so I skipped it.
 
Pamela T. August 10, 2018
This is a new favorite. Really easy to make as-is or to customize. I made into a salad with spinach and spring mix. AMAZING!
 
Lindsay S. June 22, 2018
This is just amazing, my favorite meal right now. I've made it several times and love it best just as it is written. I do use higher quality tuna in oil, and I like 1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers in jar instead of raw. I like kalamata here better bc they are stronger. Don't skimp on lemon juice. It's so perfect with the feta and granny Smiths!! I devour it with such passion, ha. I love it topped on the basil and garlic rubbed baguette as an open face sandwich too.
 
monica August 10, 2017
This is my go-to for picnics, tailgates, and parties. Scales up and modifies easily (for example, I can't eat onions, so I sub out for some roasted garlic and fresh chives). I'll have to try adding head-boiled egg!
 
monica August 10, 2017
😂 HARD-boiled eggs, not head-boiled
 
Betty J. July 2, 2017
I am making this tomorrow evening! But without the tuna because I am vegan but its a great chance to make dinner for two and add tuna to my partner's sandwich. It looks beautiful. And I have all the ingredients on hand except the bread.
 
Corinn B. August 16, 2015
New favorite sandwich!!! The basil is truly the icing on the cake!
 
je M. July 1, 2015
Finally made these after saving the recipe forever ago. Delicious combination of ingredients, but is also easily customized for on-hand ingredients. Making again and again!
 
Sonia G. June 16, 2015
Fantastic! Best tuna sandwich I have ever had. I added sardines and doubled the recipe and plan to add the rest of the tuna mixture to orzo tonight.
 
ghainskom June 8, 2015
Eating this as I type. Forgot the garlic and still, this sandwich is crazy good. Delicious!