I hate to hand it to the French, but the best beach/hiking/picnic sandwich is jambon-beurre (ham-butter). It’s just baguette, butter, and ham, and it is perfect.
Eating food outside amongst the sand and sea (or trees and squirrels) is a decidedly summery way to dine. Sandwiches were made for such meals—after all, they were designed to be eaten while the eater is doing something else. That something else was originally gambling, but outdoorspeople can take advantage of the sandwich’s portability while hiking through a forest, sitting in some grass, or lounging on the beach. All sandwiches can be enjoyed this way, but the jambon-beurre is by far your best option.
The jambon-beurre is the perfect beach sandwich
Incredible flavor aside—and we’ll get to that in a moment—this sandwich is a structural marvel engineered to travel well, keep its form, and never, ever get soggy. Both filling ingredients (ham and butter) are hydrophobic (water repelling), so there’s simply no water for your bread to absorb. This lack of water also translates into extreme packability; thanks to the high fat content and low water content, this sandwich will stay edible—no, delightful!—in a warm beach bag or backpack for the entire day.
It is also incredibly easy to make. I love a muffaletta (or similar pressed sandwich), which is similarly unlikely to sog, but those have so many ingredients and have to be pressed overnight. The jambon-beurre is easier, breezier, and can be slapped together right before you run out the door.
Unlike the muffaletta and its cousins, the jambon-buerre doesn’t contain any little bits—no shredded lettuce, no olive tapenade, no slippery pickles. Nothing to slide out, fall out, or go splat on your sunscreened lap.
This sandwich is also as delicious as it is practical. The combination of salty pork and creamy butter is very French and decadent—and the French are quite good at decadence. Using two incredibly flavorful, rich ingredients means you only need the two—they work together to create a salty, meaty, creamy bite that miraculously doesn’t feel too heavy.
Since there are so few ingredients, purchasing high-quality bread, butter, and ham makes sense: Get a fresh baguette with a nice caramel color and a crust that crackles slightly when you squeeze it, and grab a butter with flavor. I’ve been using Kerrygold, but the sandwich you see above was made with duck frosting because it’s what I had at room temp. The Kerrygold is better, if I’m being honest, so pick a pure butter instead of a compound.
For the ham, I like the dry-cured stuff (prosciutto, speck, jamon iberico, and country ham all work beautifully), though Parisian style, wet-cured ham is traditional. For best results, keep the flavors simple and avoid honey ham and the like.
Slice the baguette horizontally (keeping it whole or cutting into smaller segments if needed), then spread a thick layer of butter on each side before piling on thinly-sliced ham. Close it up, wrap it, take it out, and eat it up. Do not add cheese (you’ve already got creamy butter), and do not add vegetables. The beauty of this sandwich lies in its simplicity. Embrace it, and you will be rewarded with the perfect outdoor meal.