Let's Take It Outside

Andy Mueller

andy mueller | in the kitchen with chef andy | june 2019

Gone are the days when the term "picnic" involved a red and white checked table cloth under a giant oak tree by a lake with a wood-paneled minivan in the background. Pheasant under glass, a bottle of wine and a gourmet fruit and cheese platter makes this nosh by the shore a distant memory of a 1970s deodorant commercial. I'm not saying these picnics don't happen anymore, they just may have morphed into a bag of subs and a liter of Crush enjoyed in the comfort of your car in a parking lot near the river. Either way, it's still a picnic.

If we spend just a few minutes on prep time, the picnic can be had and the memories of days gone by can be once more. The challenge we face when it comes to picnics is the fact that there could be transportation and refrigeration issues involved. Coolers filled with ice can be a deal breaker if the ensuing melt attacks the integrity of the bread yielding a gummy sub not fit for consumption. Without the ice, the mayo creeps into the danger zone, which can turn even the best day into one we would like to forget.

Enter the pressed sandwich.

Certain sandwiches actually get better when they have time to rest … while pressed. This is a method used in sandwiches like the New Orleans style Muffaletta which feature cured meats, cheeses and finely chopped olives, peppers and onions in a vinaigrette pressed between a roll and allowed to rest so the ingredients can harmonize and elevate the flavor profile. It's also a technique used in an often-overlooked gem called Pan Bagnat (pan bahnyah or bathed bread). A French sandwich that is as common in Nice as the bratwurst is at a tailgate.

Pan Bagnat starts with crusty bread enveloping cooked tuna, hard-cooked eggs, olives, tomato, crunchy greens or fresh herbs, a bath of the best olive oil you can find, a splash of high-quality vinegar and anchovies if you wish. The sandwich is then wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to seal in the flavor and keep in the juice as it is then weighted down to compress and marry the flavors. Its flavor is explosive, it travels well and it looks great on a red and white checked tablecloth by the lake or on a newspaper next to a van down by the river. Try my twist on a French picnic classic – enjoy!

Pan Bagnat

Slice in half lengthwise a large crusty loaf of bread (ciabatta, sourdough, baguette etc.). Drizzle both inside halves liberally with extra virgin olive oil. Layer the bottom half with:

2 six oz. cans white meat tuna packed in water, drained well

Drizzle about 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar over the tuna, then top with:

2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

1 cup pitted and sliced kalamata olives (pitted sliced black olives will substitute)

1 small sweet onion, sliced thin into rings

4 hard cooked eggs, sliced

1 small tin anchovies in oil, diced fine (optional but I highly recommend)

2 ripe tomatoes, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 cup fresh baby arugula

squeeze of fresh lemon

Generous amount of fresh cracked black pepper

Place the top half on the sandwich, press down and wrap tightly in plastic wrap making sure to completely wrap the sandwich so no juices can escape. Place in a large pan and place a cutting board on top of the sandwich. Place a few large cans or bricks on top of the cutting board and weight the sandwich down for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours. Unwrap the sandwich and slice into 4, 6 or 8 slices depending on number of guests. Enjoy!

Banner image: 'Toronto, 1958 Lawrence and Jean' by Greg Wass is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Find more of his work at here and more licensing information here.

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