Provençal Pan Bagnat

Provençal Pan Bagnat

It's hard for me to understand why people don't like canned tuna.

Growing up I would never find a tuna salad sandwich in my lunch box, but have enjoyed some at children’s birthday parties or beach outings. In high school, I discovered tuna melts at a local chain Oliver's Super Sandwiches. Those were my pre-homebody days when I will do anything to stay out late. After school hours and before ball practice, violin classes or cram classes, one of my favourite snacks was the tuna "flying saucer." Cheap canned tuna mixed with mayo, pressed between two slices of commercial “wheat” bread in a jaffle press. I especially love the triangular shape, and always saved the crispy edges for the last.

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I’ve also had my fair share of tuna melts in the States. Whether its the greasy diner type or the fancy foccacia panini type, friends would judge me for my choice of protein. Most of them have developed years of distaste for tuna's mushy texture, dry mouth feel, over saltiness and fishiness. 

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A good can of "chicken of the sea" should be firm with large flakes, moist and fresh tasting. Sort out for good tasting and sustainable brands, such as Trader Joe's Tongol Chunk , Cento solid packed tuna , or, if you feel like splurging, the Spanish brand Ortiz

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These days, I still order tuna melts once in a while, but prefer its French cousin, the tuna Niçoise sandwich. Better known as Pan Bagnat, this Provence style sandwich literally means “bathed bread.” Flaked tuna is interlaced with punchy red onions, crunchy red pepper and salty olives, all doused in a bright lemon olive oil dressing. The genius part is to weigh down the sandwich overnight before eating, allowing  the bread to moisten using a "self-saucing mechanism."

Bring it on a picnic, like I did this weekend, and eat with a tart granny smith apple for dessert.

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Pan Bagnat

Serves 2. Adapted from Food52.

1 loaf crusty sesame French baguette (around 12" long)
1/2 clove garlic
4-6 basil leaves
1(5oz) can tuna
10 Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
6-8 oil cured artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
fresh lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Slice the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the insides of the bottom half to create a trough. Go all the way to the ends. Drizzle both halves with a little extra virgin olive oil and rub with garlic. On a cutting board, lay down a large sheet of cling film and place the top half of the bread on it. Line the top half with basil leaves and set a side.
  2. Make the salad. In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red bell pepper, onion, parsley and artichoke hearts. In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the olive oil until it is emulsified. Pour the vinaigrette into the tuna mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. Assemble the sandwich. Spoon tuna mixture into the trough of the baguette over the basil leaves. place the bottom half over and wrap sandwich tightly. Place something heavy, like a cast iron skillet on top of it and refrigerate, for no less than 4 hours or overnight.
  4. When ready, cut the sandwich in half and enjoy!
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