Say bonjour to better lunch.
France may be known as the cradle of haute cuisine, but nothing says good French food like classic French baguette sandwiches. These are the simple baguette sandwiches sold in boulangeries, food stands, and cafés throughout France, each wrapped snugly in brown paper — pointy bread ends peeking out — stacked high for customers to grab and go.
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In a perfect world, I would enjoy these baguette sandwiches on a sunny bench in the Jardin de Luxembourg, or perhaps while strolling along the Seine, sandwich in one hand and book in the other. (In both of these scenarios, an accordion would be playing “La Vie en Rose” in the distance, and I would look like Audrey Hepburn.)
Alas. With international travel at a virtual standstill, the best we can do for now is bring a little bit of France to us. And there is no better, or easier, way to do that than with a simple, honest French baguette sandwich. Here are three of the most classic French baguette sandwiches, and how to make them.
3 Classic Baguette Sandwiches: Basic Principles
The French are snobs about quality, so you should be, too. As a general rule, the fewer ingredients a recipe has, the better those ingredients need to be. So seek out the best, most crusty baguette you can find, good salted grass-fed or cultured butter, and the best-quality ingredients for the fillings. (A good tip: If your baguette has lost some of its crustiness and gone a little stale or soft, you can easily refresh it in the oven.)
Each of these recipes makes enough to fill one whole baguette, which can then be cut into several sandwiches.
Baguette Sandwich #1: Jambon Beurre
The most quintessential and ubiquitous sandwich of all, this is the classic ham sandwich on a generously-buttered baguette, sometimes accompanied with triangular slices of Emmental or Gruyère cheese.
To make this, generously spread the baguette with best-quality softened butter, then layer slices of French-style ham. What is French-style ham? Basically, you are fine using any simple, plain ham, preferably uncured. No black forest, no maple glazed, no smoked, no tavern, no pepper. (That said, who’s stopping you? Have fun!)
A butter non-sequitur: The best butter in the world, hands-down, is salted Beurre de Bordier, made using old-world techniques from grass-fed Normandy cows and large-flake French sea salt. As far as I know, you cannot buy it outside of France. But consider this as an F.Y.I. for the next time you go there. (I’m not telling you to wrap it tightly in plastic and smuggle it home, of course. But I’m not not telling you do do that, either.)
If you’re adding cheese, buy a block of Emmental or Gruyère and slice it into thin slices, then cut into triangles. Try to avoid deli Swiss slices.
Baguette Sandwich #2: Chèvre Tomate Avec Herbes de Provence
I frequently encountered this sandwich in the South of France, often in panini form, and absolutely love it. This is simply a tomato goat cheese sandwich sprinkled with olive oil, dried French herbs, and maybe some arugula.
The key here is to use the right goat cheese. For the most authentic version, choose a bloomy rind goat cheese like Bucheron or Bucherondin. These have a more assertive, nutty flavor than fresh goat cheese, which holds up to the mild bread and tomato’s sweetness. A slice of ham or two is not amiss.
Baguette Sandwich #3: Pan Bagnat
This sandwich requires a little more effort, but it 100 percent worth it. Think of pan bagnat as Niçoise salad in sandwich form. “Pan bagnat” means “bathed bread,” an accurate name called because the baguette soaks up olive oil and moisture from the filling until the entire thing becomes one delicious — and impressive — baguette sandwich of marinated tuna, anchovies, vegetables, sliced hard-boiled egg, and black olives, all dressed with a light vinaigrette.
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Pan bagnat is a make-ahead sandwich. It will still be fine fresh, but you’ll get maximum effect from letting the sandwich sit for two to 24 hours in the fridge. You want this to be room-temperature to serve, though. Plus, the baguette could lose its crustiness overnight in the fridge. I have found that very lightly brushing the bread with water and warming the whole thing in a 200-degree Fahrenheit oven until room temperature is the best, and most food-safe, way to go.
Finally, don’t worry about the exact ingredients for pan bagnat. Play around with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Even the tuna is not necessary. The main idea is a Mediterranean-style sandwich with juicy baguette and lots of flavor.
What’s your favorite sandwich or French food? Share below.
3 Classic French Baguette Sandwiches
Jambon Beurre (Ham and Butter)
- 1 fresh, crusty baguette
- 3 tablespoons best-quality softened butter (salted cultured butter or grass fed would be good options)
- 1/2 pound French-style ham, sliced
- 1/2 pound Emmental or Gruyère cheese, sliced by hand into thin triangles
Chèvre Tomate (Tomato and Goat Cheese)
- 1 fresh, crusty baguette
- 1 or 2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
- 1/3 pound bloomy rind goat cheese, such as Bucheron
- 1/3 pound French-style ham, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence
- 1 small handful of fresh arugula, optional
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, optional
Pan Bagnat: For the Vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (just eyeball it)
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 turns fresh black pepper
- 2 anchovies
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot (about 1/2 of one shallot clove)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Pan Bagnat: For the Sandwich
- 1 fresh, crusty baguette
- 1 6.7 ounce jar of Italian oil-packed tuna, drained
- 1/2 bell pepper, red or green, sliced very thin
- 1 small handful raw haricots verts or green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces.
- 1 large handful arugula (about 1 ounce)
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
- 10 to 12 pitted black olives, preferably Niçoise, chopped
- 1 tomato, sliced
For the Jambon Beurre
- Slice the baguette in half lengthwise, almost all the way through, and open.
- Slather both sides with the butter. Layer with the ham and cheese. Close, press, and divide into two or three sandwiches.
For the Tomato Goat Cheese
- Slice the baguette in half lengthwise, almost all the way through, and open. Drizzle the top and bottom baguette halves with olive oil.
- Slice the tomato slices in half, so they are in half moons. Slice the goat cheese into thin rounds, then slice them in half into half moons.
- If using, layer arugula, then ham onto the bottom of the sandwich. Then add alternating slices of tomato and goat cheese along the length of the sandwich.
- Sprinkle with herbes de Provence. Close the baguette, press, and divide into halves or thirds.
For the Pan Bagnat
- Make the Vinaigrette: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the parsley, vinegar, Dijon, salt, pepper, anchovies, shallot, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Whisk until emulsified.
- Slice the baguette in half lengthwise, almost all the way through, and open. Drizzle the top and bottom baguette halves with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- To the vinaigrette, add the tuna, bell pepper, haricots verts, and arugula. Stir to mix well. The tuna will break apart somewhat.
- Spread the tuna mixture along the bottom half of the baguette. Layer the sliced hard-boiled egg and olives atop the tuna mixture.
- Sprinkle with herbes de Provence. Close the baguette, press hard, and let rest for 2 to 24 hours, preferably weighted down. Tip: Suggestions for weighing down the pan bagnat: the bottom of a cast-iron skillet, or sheet pan with heavy cookbooks on it. Slice into halves or thirds, and serve. Note: If the sandwich will rest for more than two hours, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Before serving, allow to return to near room temperature.