Pan Bagnat - French Tuna Sandwich

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Pan Bagnat - French Tuna Sandwich

This French picnic sandwich, pan bagnat, is your new best friend for any outdoor outing. You can, and you should, move on.

It's supposed to be a little soft and mushy on the inside due to the tuna and olive oil soaked in the bread. It's, well, magnificent!

Where does Pan Bagnat come from?

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

You can find the sandwich on every corner: in bakeries, markets, and even beach huts.

It's traditionally made with crispy round buns, but you'll also find it prepared on baguettes or large round buns, which are cut into individual slices.

This sandwich is known as a pan bagnat, pan bagna, or pain bagnat, all pronounced "pahn bahn-yah."

The meaning of the name is literally "baked bread".

It's basically a Salade Nicoise on a sandwich, but what a sandwich!

What is a Pan Bagnat, exactly?

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

Try adding thinly sliced fennel, leftover green beans, radishes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, bell peppers, and red bell peppers from a jar—just a few of the possibilities!

You can even substitute leftover fresh tuna or salmon for canned tuna.

The hallmark of this sandwich is the soaking itself: the bread is drizzled with olive oil before stuffing, then pressed down to absorb all the juices from the tuna and other ingredients.

This makes for a delicious concert of ingredients marrying as the sandwich sits.

Crisp bread ensures that the inside stays soft but the outside of the bread stays firm.

What is the best type of tuna to use?

I vote for canned tuna over fresh tuna in this sandwich (and Salade Nicoise, too), but only if it's packed in olive oil.

Tuna packed in water is obviously lower in calories, but it is also a bit drier than tuna in oil.

In contrast, tuna packed in olive oil is tender and moist, and the tuna flavor really shines through.

You can drain some of the oil, but not all of it, if you want. Just do not squeeze everything, as it is very tasty.

If I'm in the mood to splurge, for a few more bucks I'll buy Tuna Tonnino in a jar.

I especially like the lemon and pepper version.

I love it in both this sandwich and Salade Nicoise, which is my favorite dinner on a summer night when the fridge is empty but I still have some tomatoes, olives, and eggs on hand.

The best bread for Pan Bagnat

The best option for this sandwich is a crispy bun.

While working on this recipe, I was able to find some 10-inch long baguette-style loaves that are ideal for the sandwich, since each loaf can be cut in half to make two sandwiches.

A large round loaf about eight inches in diameter would also work.

In other words, any crusty bread that looks like it will make four sandwiches will work (or even crusty rolls). Open the inside of the bread a little, leaving a space for the ingredients.

About those boiled eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are pretty simple – if you have some on hand, just cut them up to add to the sandwich.

For easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs, be sure to steam or pressure cook them.

My husband was a little wary of them in this sandwich, but he commented on how they added an almost creamy texture to the filling.

I like to cook a few extras for snacks or to take with me on days when I go running without breakfast.

Tame your raw onions

Raw onions of any kind can overpower any sandwich, overpowering (and for me, ruining) all the other ingredients. There is a solution!

Soak them in cold water to release enzymes that convert to pungent compounds.

Do this seconds after cutting an onion.

Leave them in the water while you assemble the other ingredients and give them a quick rinse, which puts them in their place as team players but still retains a bit of crunch.

I prefer red onion here and that's what I usually use because I like the color, but you can use a sweet Vidalia onion or a plain yellow onion if you like.

Now add some salty stuff!

Anchovies, capers and olives add a lot to the sandwich, but you can use it to your liking.

Small, pitted Nicoise olives are my favorite for their slightly salty flavor, but those finer points should be determined by what's available to you and what you like.

How to assemble the Pan Bagnat

After gathering the ingredients, now comes the fun part. Paint the top and bottom of the bread with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little vinegar and distribute the fillings.

Then wrap the bread tightly in plastic wrap and weigh it down with something heavy, like a cast iron skillet with some canned goods placed on top, or your heaviest skillet.

Press the sandwiches for about 10 minutes, turn them over and press for another 10 minutes. Then cut the plastic wrap with a sharp or serrated knife and you're done.

Your picnic awaits you! Assemble your basket with these sandwiches, a bottle of chilled French rosé, and plenty of napkins. Bon Appetite!


  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 boiled eggs, sliced
  • 2 anchovy fillets finely chopped
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans tuna packed in oil
  • 1/4 cup pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 10-inch baguettes or 1 full-size baguette, cut in half (see recipe note)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 12 large basil leaves


Sauté the onions:

Place the onion rings in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let them soak for at least 10 minutes or up to 30 minutes at room temperature while you prepare the sandwiches.

Make the sandwich filling:

In a bowl, add the tuna, its oil, the anchovies, the olives and 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar. Stir gently so as not to crush the tuna pieces.

Prepare the bread:

Cut the baguettes lengthwise to separate the top from the bottom. Scrape off some of the soft crumb inside the top and bottom of the bread to make room for the filling.

Rub the inside with the garlic clove. Brush with oil and sprinkle with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Fill the sandwiches:

Distribute the tuna mixture evenly on the bottom of the baguettes. Top with red onion, egg slices, tomatoes, and basil. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Top the sandwiches with the tops of the baguettes and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Press the snacks:

Place the wrapped sandwiches side by side on the counter and place a cutting board on top. Place a heavy pot or pan on top and place some canned goods inside to make them weigh even more.

Press the sandwiches for 10 minutes, turn them over, and continue pressing for another 10 minutes on the other side.

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