Monday, 7 September 2009

Pan Bagnat

John Ash tells of being invited for lunch by the great food writer MFK Fisher. As they chatted, she prepared a large sandwich, wrapped it tightly and handed it to him with instructions to sit upon it until it was time to eat. After an hour or so it was retrieved from its resting place and served in thin, neat slices with cornichons and Californian Pinot Noir.

According to Ash, lunch that day was a ham and cheese sandwich, bound together with a tangy mix of mayonnaise and mustard. But it seems likely that Fisher, who spent many years living in the south of France, borrowed the melding technique from the classic Nicoise sandwich, pan bagnat. Best translated as "bathed bread", a pan bagnat sandwiches tinned fish, hard-boiled egg, tomato and condiments in a large roll, using weights, time and good amount of olive oil to turn the whole into a deliciously marinated mess.

Sturdy and able to keep, pan bagnat makes perfect picnic food. So when the idea emerged to spend an afternoon cycling in the parks surrounding the Chateau de Versailles, I knew exactly what we'd be having for lunch. By chance, the one local bakery selling ciabatta had reopened the previous day, and we had discovered a particularly tasty brand of oil-packed anchovies. I made the sandwiches early in the morning, layering on the tuna and anchovies, egg and sliced tomato and seasoning with herbes de provence, the remaining oil and a splash of lemon juice. Double-wrapped, the sandwiches went into my backpack under 4 bottles of water and other paraphernalia. By the time we had dragged the bikes out to Versailles and found a sunny spot facing the Chateau, they were nicely squashed and moist throughout.

I was distracted from taking photos by the swarm of alcoholic wasps who also attended our picnic, eventually meeting their demise in a half-bottle of Saumur Rouge. But the sandwiches, along with what wine we could retrieve and a bag of Reine Claudes, provided sufficient ballast for several hours of charging through the woods and gaping at the grandeur.

Pan Bagnat
Adapted from the New York Times
Serves 2
Active time: 30 minutes; Total time 3-10 hours

2 portion-sized or 1 large ciabatta, either olive or plain (substitute a small white country loaf)
1 medium-size tin tuna packed in olive oil
1 small or medium tin of anchovies packed in olive oil
1 tomato
Small handful olives (optional)
Basil leaves or a small handful of rocket (optional)
Herbes de provence
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Hard-boil eggs according to preferred method. Split the ciabatta, removing a bit of the interior if desired. Open the cans of fish. Spoon a bit of the residual oil onto the bread. Add the tuna, followed by the anchovies. Slice the tomato and place on top. Stone the olives, cut in half and add.

Once sufficiently cool, peel eggs, slice and add to fish and tomato. Top with leaves. Season to taste with herbes de provence, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Wrap sandwiches in a double layer of foil, place on a plate and refrigerate, using a heavy pan or some canned goods to compress. Bring to room temperature before serving. Sandwiches will keep for at least a few hours outside the refrigerator.

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