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
- Prep time 8 hours 10 minutes
- Serves 2, but multiplies easily
loaf crusty French baguette
clove garlic, cut in half
to 6 basil leaves
(6oz) can tuna
Nicoise or Kalamata olives, sliced
red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
small red onion, finely chopped
Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
jar or can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (optional)
blanched French green beans, sliced into thirds (optional)
fresh lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.