Vitello tonnato – Veal in Tuna Sauce

Last summer (i.e. 2012), someone who cared about the state of tunny fish or tuna in the world kept up a very intense debate on facebook as to the future of this fish, portraying a grim and pessimistic future.  As a result, I decided to cut down on my tuna intake, resolving to stop buying it altogether.  I do wish that someone cleverer and more able than I would start a Tuna Preservation Petition that we could all adhere to wholeheartedly.  I would definitely take part — it seems sensible to me that if we ALL stopped eating tuna for about two or three years, or for however long it would take for them to grow in size again, then we could carry on eating it again with more gusto.

Whatever.  End of social conscience consideration.

Confession.  I did break my resolve — once in January when a good friend from Australia came to visit, and once again not so long ago … when my son asked me to make Vitel Tonné or vitello tonnato, one of his favourite dishes.  Basically it is boiled veal with a tuna sauce – which doesn’t sound at all enticing, now, does it … and yet … and yet … there is something about this ‘mix’ that amounts to a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Here are the ingredients: topside of veal, carrot, onion, celery stick, bayleaf, peppercorns, a couple of cloves, sprig of rosemary, white wine, water.  For the sauce: tuna packed in oil: about 300g, 3 eggs, 6 fillets of anchovy, lemon juice.


Here is the topside of veal and a very long thing it was too …2 I decided to cut it in half so that it would fit snugly into my casserole dish.3 I massaged the outside with a little bit of olive oil.4 I then added the rest of the ingredients …5 6 I poured enough white wine to reach about one third of the meat’s thickness.7 And covered the rest of it with plain water.8 I put a lid on it, and started cooking it over a low heat … the meat has to simmer as opposed to ‘boil’.9 And this is what you get after about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool in its stock (broth).  Bear this in mind when making vitello tonnato — it’s not difficult to make but it does require a long time – about 1 hour for it to cook, and about 2-3 hours for it to cool down.

10Boil the eggs and it is not necessary for them to be hard-boiled.  In a large mixing bowl, smash the eggs with a fork and add the anchovy fillets …

11 Drain the tuna out of the glass jar or metal can … it is rare to find tuna packed in NICE olive oil — so it’s best to get rid of it.12 Add the tuna to the mix.13 Have the stock that resulted from cooking the veal handy … it must be cool, remember!14 Use an immersion processor to zip the ingredients.  Start by adding 1 ladleful of the stock.  Then add as much as is necessary for it to turn into a beautiful mayonnaise-looking sauce.15Add the lemon juice at the end.  Season with salt and pepper.  Taste … and add more lemon juice or salt or pepper as required (the pepper should be white pepper).

And now it’s time to serve.

Slice the veal.  Put it in a serving dish.  Spread the sauce all over it.  Dot with capers.  Add some herbs of your choice.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

17Add olives too, if you like them.  I added the carrot too …

18A close-up …

19It’s a great dish that can be made a day in advance and kept in the fridge, even though I would spread the sauce only shortly before serving.

I’ve noticed that people have become very ‘sniffy’ over vittel tonné these days … and, yes, it is indeed a classic, old-fashioned, traditional staple of the Italian middle-class table (the origins are to be sought in Piedmont) but I still think it is delicious.  Some people roast the veal instead of boiling it.  A friend of mine pan-fried individual servings of veal, before finishing them off briefly in the oven, and only then adding the tuna sauce with a hint of spice in it this time (chilli flakes).  These are all very interesting and welcome variations.

Those who eschew the dish altogether on account of its being old-fashioned, however, are merely being food snobs in favour of novelty for novelty’s sake.  I have a feeling that vitel tonné will still be around after they’ve gone …

About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
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6 Responses to Vitello tonnato – Veal in Tuna Sauce

  1. Darya says:

    Hmmm I no longer eat tuna, but I think I could make an exception for vitello tonnato! I had it once at an excellent Italian restaurant in Paris and it was fantastic! Never tought of making it myself… yours looks and sounds delicious!

  2. It’s one of my favorites! We make it almost the same, except that I cook the veal sous-vide 😉

  3. Francesca says:

    Sbaglio o vedo un bellissimo girello? It’s gorgeous!!! You are right about people’s “attitude” towards vitello tonnato. Still, Stefano likes it very much and I have never made it. Thank you for this wonderful recipe, Jo! 🙂

  4. Karen says:

    This is such a classic recipe. I haven’t made this in so long but I think I have had it at least once on each trip that I take to Europe…it is served in so many restaurants. 🙂

  5. alanna says:

    Jo, if we’d like to keep our socially conscious eating in check (let’s not even get into the veal story), do you have suggestions for alternatives to tuna?

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