Thursday, October 25, 2012

Veal in tuna sauce (Vitello Tonnato)

A classic cold dish from the Italian Piemonte region: veal in tuna sauce, prepared with a modern twist.

Traditionally, 'Vitel Tonè' is prepared by braising a piece of veal with vegetables in a wine stock base. Thin slices of cold veal are then generally fully covered with the Salsa Tonnata and allowed to refrigerate for up to 5 days to develop the full flavor.

In our 'modern' version of this dish, we do not simmer the veal in stock but cook it in the oven 'low and slow'. This will cook the veal nicely pink and juicy throughout. Adding a 'gremolata' style crust of fresh herbs to the cooked veal and marinating it overnight, will add a fresher, more prominent taste of herbs. Last but not least, meat cooked to perfection should not be covered by a thick layer of sauce but presented in a more modern way.

Puritans will probably not like this modern twist to such a classic dish. And they are probably right. But in our minds, this is a nice alternative that only adds to the grandeur of this famous dish.

Vitello Tonnato is served at room temperature. It is a great first or main course, but it is also a wonderful party dish. Served with some nicely dressed salad and fresh bread. We made the pictures for this recipe while cooking for a large party of 14 people. The quantities given in the recipe are for serving a party of four.


500gr of veal, pref. 'top round steak' from the leg
400gr mayonnaise (the real one),
150 gr canned tuna in oil, drained and flaked
4 anchovy fillets
Handful of capers
Juice of ½ lemon

Fresh herbs:
Rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley,
Olive oil, salt and pepper


In order to prepare this dish 'low 'n slow', you will need an oven that can be set to low temperatures.

As you will need to set your oven at a very specific temperature, an oven thermometer like this will come in handy.

We need to cook the meat to exactly 60˚C. To do this, you'll need a meat thermometer. This is a fancy one, but any thermometer will do.

With that out of the way, we can finally start cooking!

Season your meat well with salt and pepper.
Add some olive oil and a knob of butter to a large frying pan on high heat.

Sear your meat quickly on all sides. We want to get it away from the high heat as soon as possible.
Pre-heat your oven to 70˚C.

Transfer the meat to a backing dish or tray. Cooking the meat slowly at low temperature will result in perfectly pink, tender, juicy meat. For these two 1kg top round steaks, approx 1 1/2 hours of cooking time was needed.

Check the core temperature of the veal. When this has reached 60˚C, remove the meat from the oven and leave to cool.

While your veal is cooling down, finely chop your fresh herbs to prepare the 'gremolata'.
Add the finely chopped zest of the 1/2 lemon and 1 tbsp of olive oil.

Once the veal has cooled down, spread a large piece of cling wrap or food wrap on a cutting board.
Cover it with the gremolata. Role your meat through the gremolata, making sure it is distributed evenly.
Now role the cling film tightly around the meat. Taking both ends, tighten it as good as you can without ripping the foil.
Leave to marinate like this in your refrigerator for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.

For the tuna sauce, add tuna, half of the capers, anchovies and lemon juice to a food processor. Mix at high speed for 30 seconds and scrape down the mixture using a spatula.

Mix for another 30 seconds or until you have a homogeneous mixture. Add the mayonnaise and mix until you have a smooth sauce.
Add salt and pepper to taste. This tuna sauce will also get better if kept in your fridge overnight.

Remove the cling wrap from the meat and scrape of the herbs. Slice as thinly as you can, using a sharp meat knife.

A better angle on the result of the low and slow cooking method. The meat is cooked almost evenly pink throughout. It is incredibly tender and juicy.


Make a simple vinaigrette and lightly dress some nice salad leaves.

Put the salad on the middle of a nice large plate and arrange the slices of veal around it.

Dress with the salsa tonnata, making sure some of the delicious meat stays visible. Finally dress the dish with some capers.

And there you have it, in all its glory: 
our modern version of Vitello Tonnato. 
We hope you give this recipe a try. Enjoy!

Wine suggestion
This dish has many bold flavors: sour, sweet, fatty, earthiness, meat and fish.
This requires a full bodied white wine with both enough acidity and sweetness.
My suggestion would therefore be Roero Arneis:

-Ron Maertzdorf

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