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Monday, December 3, 2012

Translations and a Very French Sandwich

Pan Bagnat

Translations and a Very French Sandwich
by Victoria Challancin

Wet bread just doesn't sound that tasty, does it?  Somehow, though, if you tweak the phrase just a weeny bit and call it "bathed" bread instead, you instantly have an exotic dish, swathed in mystery, begging to be explored.  Such is the nature of translation, a mere flick can turn the undesirable into sheer inspiration.

I'm trying to remember when I first tasted pan bagnat, a wet, nay, "bathed" tuna sandwich from the south of France.  I'd like to think it was in France, but I believe it was via my dear Maltese and British friends with whom I shared daily tea and weekend fishing sprees when I lived in Abu Dhabi in the mid-70s.  Probably, it was a slightly Maltese/Italian version of this specialty of Nice, France.  Perfect beach food.  Perfect cooling food for the searing heat of the Gulf.  Even the term "bathed" cools me off and makes me ready for adventure.

The term pan bagnat comes from the local Niçard language of Provence.  Sold in markets, cafes, and bakeries throughout the region, pan bagnat is a lovely marriage of Salade Niçoise and bread (pain in French itself).  A very wet tuna salad replete with anchovies, rich, oily tuna, local olives, marinated onions, capers, hard-cooked eggs, radishes, vinegar, and olive oil bathes the bread, producing the most delicious combination of delightful hot-weather goodness imaginable.  When weighted overnight in the fridge, this concoction reaches real perfection.  And as a bonus, the salad can be served, mushed together, as a crostini topper for a flavorful hors d'oeuvre.  Perfection!

Speaking of Translations...

Of course calling pan bagnat either "wet" or "bathed" is a simple matter of how one interprets the a local French dialect, with either term serving the same purpose.  Either term is fine, albeit one is more enticing.  However, translations can go amiss in other ways, by omitting one little letter, for example, and take you into dangerous, or at the very least, embarrassing waters, as in this little story of my early days in Mexico when my Spanish clearly didn't cover all situations.

When our son Zack was a toddler, we hired a lovely young woman to care for him while I was teaching/home schooling American teenagers who didn't fit into the Mexican school system due to language difficulties.  She was great, for the one day we had her.  After that one day, somehow she left us for green pastures and brought her aunt to work instead.  Desperate, we hired Amparo to watch our child while I worked in another room.  Poor Amparo had some hygiene issues that I didn't understand at first--not until I saw my toddler scratching his head.  Yes, the dreaded head lice had arrived in our home.

Off to the pharmacy I dashed, armed with my growing Spanish, ready to tackle any situation, or so I thought.

Me:  "Buenos dias.  Se venden penes finos en esta farmacia, señora?"

Sra:  (Smirking a bit, but very deadpan)  "No, señora, no vendemos nada de órganos masculinos aqúi."

Me, translating in my brain:  Organos masculinos????  Male organs?????  No, no, no...I madly thought midst much good-natured laughter all around me.

Well this all basically translates as:

V:  Do you sell fine penises at this pharmacy?

Sra:  No, we don't sell any masculine organs here.

Peine = comb     Pene = penis

So you see how afoul you can go by just tossing out one little letter?  You can imagine the giggles I get from my Mexican cooks if we cook the pasta penne (same pronunciation in Spanish) or calzones ("underwear" in Spanish).  Maybe one day I'll share how I accidentally asked my Arab university students in Bahrain to tell me all about sex when all I wanted to know was about the djin in the Quran.   Yes, translation is a lot of fun.

Cook's Notes:  I should have used a baguette instead of the ciabatta rolls, but because I knew in class we wouldn't have time to properly weight the bread and leave overnight in the refrigerator, I thought the lighter rolls would be fine.  They were a little soggy...a bit more than bathed.

Recipe:  Pan Bagnat, le French Tuna Salad Sandwich
(Adapted from a recipe from Gourmet Magazine, 2001)
Serves 2, but can easily be multiplied

1/4 white onion, thinly sliced
1/8 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil,plus additional for drizzling
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 6-0unce can tuna packed in olive oil, including olive oil
Lemon juice to taste

One baguette, sliced in half horizontally with some of the inside removed
Olive oil to sprinkle
1 cut garlic clove
6 to 8 large basil leaves or baby lettuce
8 tomato slices
6 to 8 hard-cooked egg slices
4 anchovy fillets, drained (optional, but not in the South of France)
2 small stalks celery, sliced
1 can or jar of artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1 cup Niçoise olives, pitted and chopped
2 radishes, thinly sliced

Combine the red and white onions with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt,and several grindsof black pepper in a bowl.

Using your hands, mix and squeeze everything together for 5 minutes.  (Don'dt rush through this part; the onions need time to releaser their juices and mellow).  

Work in can of tuna in olive oil, including the oil.  Season with fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the bread with a little olive oil.   Rub with a cut garlic clove.  Place the basil leaves or lettuce on one half of the baguette.  Arrange 4 tomato slices on top.  Then add about half the tuna mixture and 3 to 4 slices of hard-cooked egg.  Top with anchovies, celery,artichoke, capers, olives, and radishes.  Drizzle generously with more olive oil and top with the remaining bread, pressing firmly.

Note:  You can eat the sandwiches immediately or weight them overnight.  To weight them, place the sandwiches in a dish, top with a plate or something flat.  Use something heavy to weight the sandwiches and store overnight in the refrigerator.

 An unadorned plate of pan bagnat, ready for eating

Parting Shot:
From my last trip to Paris...

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life and love, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or texts.


Not Quite Nigella said...

LOL I loved your question asking for fine penises-not ordinary ones but fine ones! I love this dish but yes you have to embrace the wetness of it :D

Joan Nova said...

jajaja ... what a fun post! And I do love those sandwiches but never knew the history.

Eha said...

Seem to have heard the term forever, but don't think I have ever known to order it. But have 'accidentally' achieved something similar when tuna in oil has not been properly drained; Guess what I am having for lunch now [sans artichokes]- thanks! Love the story: yes Lorraine has an extra point there :) !

Hotly Spiced said...

What wonderful looking sandwiches. Being 'lost in translation' can lead to a lot of giggles. xx


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