Thursday, August 26, 2010

On Pan Bagnat, Sardines, and Laurelhurst Park

This post is intended to be a brief explanation of the cryptic photos ending the previous post. Continuing with the Southern French cooking obsession, last week I learned how to make pan bagnat. "Pan bagnat" means "wet bread" in one of the languages of the South of France, and I have no idea how it's pronounced. I've been pronouncing it like it's in the French I know &mdash pain baigné.

"Wet bread" doesn't sound particularly appetizing, and this sandwich actually starts out with dry bread. I wish I had known about this a year or two ago, when I had to pack lunches that wouldn't be reheated in an office microwave (for example, when I was doing field work). This is the solution to the soggy sandwich problem. These would make a perfect packed lunch and I have dreams of my friends and I embarking on fancy picnics, involving a wicker basket (NOT an ugly cooler bag), with us all dressed up -the ladies wearing skirts* and the men wearing button-up shirts with jeans that don't have holes in them.** Maybe a nice hat, too. I think Laurelhurst Park would be a great setting for this dream picnic. In real life, I don't think I've ever had a picnic at Laurelhurst Park***.

More realistically, we'll take these sandwiches to Mount Hood. I suspect they will survive a few hours in the car, and then being jostled around in a backpack, smushed under bug spray bottles and extra clothes. High Rock Meadow (and here, if I'd actually gotten my film developed in a timely fashion, would be a photo of this majestic space with its view of Mounts Hood, Jefferson, and Adams) would be just as appropriate a setting for a picnic, despite the lack of flouncey skirts and parasols.

Ok, so on to the sandwich. Pan bagnat is made with dry bread - thick, crusty bread, or stale bread, whatever you want. A baguette or ciabatta works. It is then laden with "wet" ingredients. You know those restaurant sandwiches you get that are overstuffed, so much that no sane person could fit it in their mouth, and you have to eat it with silverware and, if you're me, you're torn between being cranky and being in love with a delicious sandwich? That's what you're going for. Except! From something seemingly impractical comes a new, practical sandwich.

That is a sandwich under a cast iron skillet and a tea kettle full of water, next to a sandwich under a Le Creuset tarte tatin pan and a full jar of coconut oil.

After cutting your bread in half and tearing out some of the fluffy middle (after which you must then dip it in some aioli or eat with cheese or something else delicious, not throw it out! Good Heavens!), you put oil on one side of the bread and vinegar on the other,and then stack your other wet ingredients on one side of the bread. Then carefully smush the other half of bread over the stack. Then wrap the sandwich in something like tinfoil or parchment paper. Then weight it down, as seen in the photo above.

These wet ingredients can be whatever you'd like. Purists, according to Clotilde Dusoulier, whose book has a recipe for Pan Bagnat along with the background of the sandwich, insist that mayonnaise is a no-no, as well as anything that was expensive in Nice when the sandwich was invented. So no tuna, even though you'll see a lot of descriptions of pan bagnat as a "Niçoise tuna sandwich" and even though tuna is now a fairly cheap ingredient. A more appropriate fish for the sandwich would be sardines.

I thought I hated sardines. I was convinced of this when I tried a sandwich with sardine and harissa mousse. I think I threw out the sandwich and fed the rest of the sardines to the stray cats that lived in a barn in my backyard. Regardless, I got a copy of Moi, je cuisine solo ou duo as soon as someone offered it on Book Mooch. But sardines are constantly talked up as a sustainable seafood, and they're healthy AND they're cheap! and I felt guilty for not liking them, as a health-concerned green-minded cheapskate. And then they were on sale at Fred Meyer. "It was on sale," is a good enough excuse for anything.

It turns out that I do like sardines. At least the Bumblebee kind. They're like tuna, but cheaper and without the creepy, ambiguous threat to "child-bearing women." They're less smelly (and cheaper) than anchovies! Mmmm, mmm, mmm! All weekend, I was obsessed not only with pan bagnat but also with sardines.

There are a lot of possibilities for pan bagnat, so I'll list a few of the ones I've made. 1) Aioli (because I hadn't yet read the part about mayonnaise being a no-no), sardines, sliced hardboiled egg, roasted bell pepper, tomato slices, red onion slices that sat in sherry vinegar to mellow out, cucumber slices, and basil leaves. 2) Oil and vinegar, all of the above, plus some green beans pulled from a salad. 3) I haven't made this yet, but at a restaurant once I had pan bagnat made with proscuitto instead of seafood.

I suspect this concept can be adapted to different ingredients, perhaps "themes" like "Tex-Mex" or "Eastern Mediterranean." I'm pondering ways to make pan bagnat with za'atar or pomegranate molasses.

* Although most of my female friends here in Portland wear skirts almost every day, for no occasion whatsoever.
** I suppose we can't ask for much more than that.
*** A third (!!!) note - Laurelhurst Park, for my non-Portlandy readers, is one of the nicest parks in the city, definitely one of the nicest on the East side (aside from this one, of course!) The Portland parks page does not do it justice. I planned to link to the Google Images query for "Laurelhurst Park," but mixed in with the pictures of this beautiful, Metasequoia glyptostroboides-filled space, were photographs of posh homes near the park and, inexplicably, the Dude drinking a White Russian. (Hmm...perhaps not so inexplicably after all.)

1 comment:

LS said...

Last night, in a hotel in Denver, we watched a challenge on Food Network - make an appetizer in 15 min that includes: sardines, rice paper, banana chips, and... what was it... kabocha squash. Your talk of sardines reminded me of this, and it was hilarious to watch the poor chefs trying to come up with something creative and good in a short time.

Your sandwich sounds fantastic, a lot better than the soggy sandwiches I had as a kid while skiing in winter. Those were often with a cold fried egg and kethup between whole wheat bread. But I ate it happily, it wasn't bad.

PS. I love sardines in tomato sauce.