Pan Bagnat (French Tuna Sandwich)

Pan Bagnat is the ultimate make-ahead picnic sandwich! Find some crusty bread, good quality canned tuna, a few choice toppings, and you’re on your way. It seems fancy, but this French tuna sandwich couldn’t be easier.

Nicoise tuna fish sandwich recipes

Welcome to le pique-nique! (That’s French for picnic: insert happy face here.)

This French picnic sandwich, pan bagnat, is your new best friend for any outdoor excursion. You can—and should—make it ahead. It’s supposed to be a little soft and squishy on the inside from the tuna fish and olive oil soaking into the bread. It is, well, magnifique!

WHERE DOES PAN BAGNAT COME FROM?

Pan bagnat is to the area around Nice (in the French Mediterranean) as muffuletta is to New Orleans.

You find the sandwich on every corner—in bakeries, markets, and even in stands by the beach. Traditionally, it is made with round crusty rolls, but you also find it prepared in baguettes or big round loaves, which are cut into individual slices.

This sandwich known variously as pan bagnatpan bagna, or pain bagnat—all pronounced “pahn bahn-yah.” The meaning of the name is literally “bathed bread.”

WHAT IS A PAN BAGNAT, EXACTLY?

Canned tuna, anchovies, olives, tomatoes, onions and hard-boiled eggs are a few of the standard ingredients, but this sandwich can be a catchall for any others you might have around.

Try adding thinly sliced fennel, leftover green beans, radishes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, sweet peppers and red peppers from a jar—just a few of the possibilities! You could even substitute leftover fresh tuna or salmon for the canned tuna.

The hallmark of this sandwich is its very sogginess: The bread is doused with olive oil before being filled, and then pressed so that it absorbs all the juices from the tuna fish and other ingredients.

This makes a delicious concert of ingredients that marry together as the sandwich sits. Crusty bread ensures that the insides are soft but outside of the bread stays firm.

WHAT’S THE BEST KIND OF TUNA TO USE?

I vote for canned tuna fish rather than fresh tuna in this sandwich (and in Salade Nicoise as well), but only if it is packed in olive oil.

Water packed tuna is, of course, lower in calories, but it is also a little drier than tuna in olive oil. In contrast, tuna packed in olive oil is tender and moist, and the flavor of the tuna really shines. You can drain some, but not all, of the oil if you like. Just don’t press it all out, since it is very flavorful.

If I am feeling like a splurge, for a few dollars more I buy Tonnino tuna in a jar. I especially like the lemon and pepper version. I love it in both this sandwich and in Salade Nicoise, which is my go-to supper on a summer night when the fridge is bare but I still have some tomatoes, olives, and eggs on hand.

THE BEST BREAD FOR PAN BAGNAT

The best choice for this sandwich is a crusty loaf. When working on this recipe, I was able to find some 10-inch long baguette-style loaves, which are ideal for the sandwich since each loaf could be cut in half to make two sandwiches. A large round loaf that is about eight inches in diameter would also work.

In other words, any crusty loaf that looks like it would make four sandwiches will work (or even similarly crusty rolls). Hollow out some of the insides of the bread, leaving a space for the ingredients.

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