Vitello tonnato belongs in the same category as prawn cocktail: a dish that’s been around for ages, and fallen into disrepute. In the case of vitello tonnato this was because we spent decades avoiding ‘white’ veal from cage reared calves, produced mostly on the continent. The good news is we can buy ‘pink’ British veal with a clear conscience – and this has been the case for several years, although veal still hasn’t moved back into the culinary mainstream. This is a shame; it’s particularly good meat to serve in the summer months and Vitello tonnato is an ideal summer dish.
For large numbers of people it makes sense to buy a joint of veal, such as deboned rib/breast or leg and then pot roast it. For 2 – 3 people, you could buy the corresponding number of escalopes, bash them thin, and then fry them for a couple of minutes on each side. I also quite often buy a small joint, roast it and then use the remainder to make vitello tonnato.
Step one: Pot Roast Veal – for 6 to 8 people
1.25-1.5kg veal joint, tied with string to keep its shape
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 outer stalks celery, chopped
½ onion, sliced
1 bottle dry white wine
Place the veal in a suitably sized, not too big for the joint, casserole with the bay leaf, salt, whole black peppercorns, onion and celery. Pour in the wine and, if this is insufficient, add enough water to cover the meat by a couple of centimetres. You can leave this to marinade for a few hours if you wish.
Bring the veal slowly to a simmer, reduce the heat and cover the pot with its lid. Leave it to simmer very gently for an hour and a half.
Remove the veal from the liquid and leave it to cool. While it is cooling make the tuna sauce. I find it easiest to make a mayonnaise and then add the other ingredients; this isn’t the traditional Italian method but messing around with hard boiled egg yolks doesn’t appeal to me.
1 large clove garlic
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 free range, large egg yolks
250ml sunflower oil
juice of half a lemon
200g tin yellow-fin, dolphin friendly, sustainably sourced tuna (isn’t buying fish fraught these days), drained of liquid
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 heaped tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and drained
I prefer to make mayonnaise by hand. It’s dead easy and takes 5 minutes; the trick is to make sure the egg yolks are at room temperature before using them.
Crush the garlic in the salt so it makes a paste. Place this in the bottom of a large glass bowl, along with the egg yolks. Using a balloon whisk, mix this thoroughly.
Now start adding the oil, one drop at a time. Keep whisking while you pour the oil. It’s a good work out for the upper arms. Don’t try rushing it and make sure the oil it properly beaten in before adding a bit more. As the oil gets incorporated you’ll find the egg mixture becomes very stiff; you can now be a little bolder every time you add the oil.
Once you have used up the oil, whisk in the lemon juice – this will slacken the mayonnaise.
Use a pestle and mortar (or a food processor) to pound up the tuna, anchovy fillets and capers till smooth. Fold this mixture into the mayonnaise. Taste – you may want to add a little more lemon juice. On the occasions I’ve eaten this in Italy, the sauce is always a thick custard consistency. So if your tuna sauce is a bit solid, add a tablespoon of the cold pot roast cooking liquid (strained of any vegetable bits) to loosen it up a bit.
Carve the veal into ½ centimetre slices and place them on a platter. Ladle the tuna sauce over the meat, scatter a few more capers over the top and either eat immediately (the lukewarm temperature beloved by Greeks) or cover and leave to chill until ready to eat.
Green salad and bread is all you need to go with this.