Sunday, April 3, 2011

Perfect Picnic Sandwich: Pan Bagnat

Spring is in the air—sort of. We had one amazingly sunny, warm, no-coat or umbrella week. The birds were chirping, the trees were blooming (my allergies were going wild), and the city swelled with people coming out to enjoy the sun. Then, before we even had time to dig out the flip flops, we were reminded that April showers (hopefully) bring May flowers, and April Fool’s day was the rainiest, stormiest, wettest day we’ve had in weeks.

As it gradually gets warmer outside, and Evan and I are making that slow journey from heavy, hearty, sauce-laden meals to light, fresh, picnic-worthy fare—like this sandwich: Pan Bagnat. Move over pickles and mayo, a new tuna sandwich is in town, and just in time for spring!

Tuna can be a weird thing. I, for one, am very particular about who prepares my tuna sandwiches. I’ve seen too many soggy, mushy tuna ‘spreads’ out there to trust my canned-fish in the hands of just anyone. In other words, I pretty much only eat tuna sandwiches made by Amanda, Mel, or myself. If I saw this tuna sandwich on a menu, however, I might change my tune.

Pan Bagnat, or ‘wet bread,’ is a basically a Niçoise salad in a French loaf. Big, flakey chunks of tuna are tossed with olive oil and red wine vinegar, sweet cherry tomatoes, and briny olives and capers, then stuffed into a chewy French loaf layered with fresh basil and creamy hardboiled eggs (another thing I only eat from a select few kitchens). The sandwich is then pressed, so that the flavors meld even more, and the bread begins to soak up the tangy juices, hence the name.

I know it may seem like just another spin on a tuna sandwich, but trust me people, this sandwich is amazing. It’s super fresh and light, tangy, and just plain delicious. And, unlike many tuna sammies out there, the fish in this sandwich gets to keep its integrity, and isn’t creamed into oblivion with heaps of mayonnaise. Just another reason I would maybe consider ordering this off of a menu, or letting you make it for me.

Whether you’re making this for yourself, or letting someone else make it for you; waiting for your first spring picnic, or encouraging the sun to come a little quicker by picnicking on your living room floor; this sandwich is a must have in your picnic basket.

Pan Bagnat
Inspired by Sarah at 20Something Cupcakes

Serves 2 ravenously hungry people, or—with a salad or side dish—4 moderately hungry people.

2 cans of albacore tuna, drained (many recipes call for tuna packed in oil, and suggest using that oil in the sandwich filling, but I prefer tuna in water, drained, and a separate fruity olive oil for a fresher, less fishy-canned flavor)
A hearty handful of Niçoise olives (cured in brine and packed in olive oil)—roughly chopped
An even heartier handful of cherry tomatoes—halved or quartered
2 big spoonfuls of capers
Couple splashes of red wine vinegar
Squeeze of a lemon
Healthy pour or 2 (or 3 or 4) of good olive oil
Salt (preferably flakey maldon sea salt)
Fresh ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil
2-3 harboiled eggs—thinly sliced
1 chewy French loaf- halved and hollowed
Under broiler, toast insides of bread halves until lightly browned and slightly crispy. Remove, cool for a second, and layer both halves with basil leaves—get a lot in there and get it fully covered.

Mix together tuna through black pepper—taste, and add more of anything if needed. You’ll want a pretty good amount of oil and vinegar so that the mixture is coated and moist, without being overly soggy. Pile mixture into bottom bread half, and cover with a single layer of sliced eggs. Top with second basil-lined bread half, and wrap sandwich with plastic wrap.

Weight down with a heavy brick for 10-20 minutes (depending on how hungry/impatient you are) to press. Unwrap, slice, and serve!
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