Recipe: Vitello Tonnato
Vitello Tonnato is a classic Italian dish of cold cooked veal, thinly sliced, and served with tuna flavoured, mayonnaise like sauce. I know, veal and tuna, right? How could that possibly taste nice? But trust me, the favour that comes from the combination of ingredients in the tuna sauce goes really well with the tender, cold meat. I got hooked when I tried it in Italy and had to make it at home.
‘Vitello’ is veal and ‘tonnato’ is tuna sauce. The dish is very popular in Italy and Argentina and is normally known as something that requires time and skills. I wanted to create a version that is easy to replicate in any kitchen. Sure, it still takes longer than your typical Tuesday dinner (maybe save it for the weekend) but it really is a great paleo dish. It’s rich in protein – veal, tuna and eggs in one meal – as well as good fats and other vital nutrients. It can also be made a day in advance and easily kept in the fridge if not eaten in one seating.
Cook’s notes: Veal part from the back of the leg called eye round is usually used but I used two thick veal fillets in this recipe. Those of you who can’t find veal or have an ethical problem with eating veal, can try using beef fillets. The colour of the meat won’t be as light and pink and the flavour might be stronger and more beefier but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with the sauce. You can prepare this dish in one session or over two days as there are two stages: poaching/braising of the veal and then making of the sauce. The dish is assembled and served when the cooked veal has cooled down.
For the veal
- 1 tsp ghee or ½ tsp coconut oil
- 2 thick veal fillets (about 2cm in thickness)
- pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper
For the stock
- 1 tbsp virgin olive oil or 1 tsp ghee
- 1 small brown onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in halves
- 1 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 10 black peppercorns (alternatively 2/3 tsp ground pepper)
- 2/3 tsp whole coriander seeds
- 1 ½ cup white wine
- 1 tsp wholegrain or Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp Worstershire sauce (gluten free)
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 ½ cup vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh or dried mixed Italian herbs (I used parsley, basil & oregano)
For the tonnato sauce (tuna sauce)
- 2 whole eggs
- 200g canned tuna in olive oil
- 2 1/2 tbsp baby capers, rinsed
- juice of ½ lemon
- 3-4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 4-5 tbsp poached veal stock (cooled down)
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- pinch of ground black pepper
- pinch of salt
For the final touches
- ½ Spanish red onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp red or white wine vinegar
- pinch of sea salt
- few extra capers
- Mixed salad of green leaves, black olives, cucumber and any salad ingredients you like.
- Take the veal fillets out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature.
- Heat ghee or coconut oil in a deep frying pan (you will be using the same frying pan to poach the fillets, alternatively you can use a saucepan). Pan fry veal steaks on each side for about 1 minute to seal all the juices and season with a pinch of salt and pepper on each side. Remove from the frying pan to a side plate.
- Add onion, garlic, cloves, star anise, coriander seeds and peppercorns to the frying pan with a little more ghee or virgin olive oil (not extra-virgin). Pan fry on medium heat for a couple of minutes and pour in the wine. Let it come to bubble and then add vegetable stock, mustard, fish sauce, Worstershire and the herbs.
- Bring the stock to boil and take the pan off the heat. Add the seared veal fillets (don’t worry if they’re not completely covered by the stock as we’ll be turning them over every few minutes). To poach, leave the fillets in hot stock for 10 minutes on no heat. Then put the pan back on very low heat for 4-5 minutes to bring the temperature of the stock back up to simmering. Then take off the heat again and leave to poach for another 10 minutes. It should be a total of about 25 minutes of poaching (on and off the heat). Make sure to turn the fillets over every 5-7 minutes. Remove the fillets and let them cool down completely, save the stock and cool that down too as we’ll be adding some of it to our tonnato sauce (you can freeze the rest and use it to make a beautiful steak sauce or a hearty beef stew). You will need to allocate about 1 hour to the cooling process or this step can be done the day before.
- This step can be done while you’re poaching the fillets. Bring a saucepan of water to boil and cook the eggs for 8 minutes until almost hard-boiled. Rinse under cold water and cool down.
- To make the sauce, place peeled eggs (yolks and whites) in a food processor or a powerful blender together with capers, tuna and lemon juice. I used a stick blender/soup purifier and a whisk this time.
- Process ingredients into smooth paste and add a couple of tablespoons of stock if the mixture is too thick and is difficult to whisk. As you continue to whisk/blend, start adding the extra-virgin olive oil, one teaspoon at a time. Adding the oil gradually prevents splitting and ensures a thick, glossy consistency. Finally add salt, pepper, fish sauce and another tablespoon or two of stock. It really depends on how thick or thin you like the sauce, I prefer the consistency of thick creamy dressing. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if you prefer it more tart.
- Finally, combine chopped red onion with vinegar, olive oil and a little salt and let it pickle for a couple of minutes. Mix salad ingredients with some olive oil and lemon juice.
- To serve vitello tonnato, slice cooled down veal fillets very thinly and serve on a plate topped with a few tablespoons of tuna sauce, some pickled onion, extra capers and the salad.
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Number of servings: 4
If you like this, check out my Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook for more delicious paleo recipes, introduction to paleo nutrition and philosophy and a handy inventory of foods to focus on and avoid. Available on my website and on Amazon.com.