What is Vitello Tonnato?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Vitello tonnato is an Italian dish that consists of chilled, sliced veal and a tuna sauce spread on top of it. The dish is served cold and is popular as a summertime main dish or appetizer. The preparation and presentation may vary, but the general elements are the same: thinly sliced veal and a tuna sauce, often garnished with lemon or hard boiled egg, all served chilled. Vitello tonnato can take a significant amount of time to prepare, and the dish is often chilled for several days before serving so the flavors have sufficient time to mature and bolden.

To make the sauce for vitello tonnato, a blender is necessary. Combine tuna, capers, white wine vinegar, and lemon juice, in the blender and blend the mixture for a few minutes until a smooth texture is evident. After the mixture has been blended thoroughly, add mayonnaise and a bit of chicken broth and continue to blend. Once the mixture is thoroughly blended, pour the mixture into a container, cover it, and refrigerate it. Refrigeration should take place for up to 24 hours, though the mixture can be used after two hours of chilling. The longer the vitello tonnato sauce chills, the more flavorful it will become.


The veal that will be used in the vitello tonnato recipe can be prepared in a number of ways. It can be broiled, roasted, or even grilled, but braising is the most common method of preparation. This involves combining the veal with onions and other vegetables in chicken stock, wine, and seasoning. All of this will sit in a casserole dish, which will be placed in an oven for up to an hour, or until the veal is tender and cooked through. Like other meats, the veal can be cooked to preference, with a rare piece requiring less cooking time than a well-done piece.

The veal is then put aside overnight or for several hours. To serve, the sauce is poured onto a plate and the thinly sliced, chilled veal is placed on top of it. Then, more of the vitello tonnato sauce is poured on top of the veal slices. The slices are typically completely covered with the sauce. The garnishes are then added. Common garnishes include parsley, capers, lemon slices, or hard boiled eggs. This dish can be served as a main course, but it is more commonly a first or second plate.


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