If you’ve never had vitello tonnato before, you probably think veal and tuna are an unlikely pair. But in fact this classic dish from the Piemonte region in Italy (called vitel tonnà in the Piemontese language) is a great combination. Traditionally, vitello tonnato is made by poaching the “girello” cut of “Fassone” veal (a prized Piemontese breed of veal) in a stock with aromatic vegetables and white wine, sliced thinly and served with a sauce of canned tuna, hard-boiled eggs, capers, anchovies, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and a bit of the cooking liquid. Girello (also known as tondino or magatello in Italian) is a particular cut of veal from the hind leg called “Eye of Round” (“achtermuis” in Dutch). Real Fassone veal would be outstanding, but regular veal will work just fine to make your own vitello tonnato.
When poaching the veal in a stock, a lot of the taste from the veal will leak into the stock. That is why I prefer to pan-sear the veal and finish it in the oven or sous-vide to a core temperature of 55C/131F. The browning also provides additional taste. The disadvantage of this approach is that the veal is not aromatised by the vegetables and wine. And so I decided to add the aromatic veggies to the sous-vide preparation. The eye of round is a tender piece of veal with a light flavor, and I thought I could improve my sous-vide vitello tonnato even more by using a tougher cut with more flavor and cook it tender using sous-vide. I tried this with a cut that is known as flat iron steak in the US (“sukade” in Dutch, although here it still has the tendon that is removed in flat iron steak), and it worked out great! I think this approach will work with any piece of tough veal that doesn’t have big tendons/sinews such as veal brisket. It is for sure the way I will prepare vitello tonnato from now on!
If you don’t have sous-vide equipment, you can still make great vitello tonnato by purchasing the traditional cut (eye of round) and cooking it to a core temperature of 55C/131F in the oven at 160C/325F. If you do that, you can skip all the steps of the recipe regarding the vegetables.
The sauce for vitello tonnato is sometimes made with mayonnaise instead of hard-boiled eggs. With mayonnaise it is creamier but also contains a lot more oil, so I’m sticking to hard-boiled eggs.
In any case, vitello tonnato is a great appetizer on its own, or as part of an antipasti buffet. The flavors develop when you let the finished dish rest in the refrigerator for a day or longer before serving.
900 grams (2 lbs) veal, eye of round if cooking in the oven or brisket/flat iron if cooking sous-vide
6 anchovy fillets
aceto balsamico and/or lemon juice (to taste)
2 Tbsp capers
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp clarified butter or 1 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can tuna with olive oil (about 100 grams/4 oz tuna)
3 hard-boiled eggs
If cooking sous-vide:
2 bay leaves
1 stick celery
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary
1 glass (100 ml) dry white wine
Finely chop the carrot, onion, celery, rosemary, garlic, and bay leaves.
This can be done very well with the food processor, but feel free to do it by hand if you prefer. Add the cloves as well.
Pat the veal dry with paper towels. Rub with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides.
Heat the clarified butter (or butter and olive oil) in a frying pan. Add the veal when the butter is hot.
Brown the veal on all sides over medium high heat.
Lower the heat. Take the veal out of the pan and put it on a plate to cool.
Add the chopped aromatic vegetables to the fat remaining in the pan. Scrape the bottom with a wooden spatula to get all of the flavor.
Sauté over medium heat until golden, about 5-10 minutes. Add the white wine.
Cook, stirring, until all the wine has evaporated.
Add the juices that leaked out of the veal while cooling. Again, we’d like to get as much flavor in as possible.
Since we will need to vacuum seal the meat with the vegetables, the veggies should be sautéed until they are dry (unless you are using zip pouches or a chamber vacuum sealer).
Vacuum seal the veal with the vegetables, trying to distribute the vegetables evenly around the veal.
Cook sous-vide for 8 hours at 55C/131F if using tough meat such as flat iron or brisket. For tender veal such as eye of round, you only need the time needed to bring the whole piece of veal up to temperature.
Open the pouch, remove the veal and wipe it clean. Let it cool. Reserve the juices from the pouch, but not the vegetables.
To make the sauce, combine the tuna with the hard-boiled eggs (without the shells, obviously), anchovies, 1 Tbsp capers, 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and the juices from the sous-vide pouch.
Process in the blender until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice and/or balsamic vinegar.
The veal will be very tender and succulent. Let it cool to refrigerator temperature to make it easier to slice it thinly.
Slice the meat thinly (4 mm or 1/6 inch would be great) across the grain.
If you used a Dutch flat iron cut (“sukade”), you can quite easily cut the tough tendon out of the middle of each slice.
Arrange the veal slices on a plate, either on individual plates for each serving or on one big plate.
Cover with a layer of the sauce. Garnish with the remaining capers.
Vitello tonnato is served at room temperature or slightly below that (I prefer the latter, but not straight from the refrigerator). It’s best when you let the flavors develop for at least a day before serving.
The obvious choice is a dry white wine from Piemonte from a local grape such as Arneis or Gavi di Gavi. It should be full-bodied to match the full flavor of the dish.
14 thoughts on “Amazing Sous-Vide Vitello Tonnato”
Lots of complicated stuff going on here Stefan. You certainly extracted all the flavour. I’ll bet it was delicious.
I’d love to taste somebody else’s before trying it myself … not that I’ve *ever* seen veal here 😦 Montreal has a great Italian community and lots of restauants. I’m going there in January… maybe I can try it there!
It is a very popular dish, so I’m sure you’ll be able to try it in Montreal.
The meat was perfect in 2 hours . A pity that the great flavors from the vegetable mix are a little bit masked by the also great tuna sauce. The lemon at the end is the perfect finish, the “puntje op de i”!
I added some cutted black olives together with the capers on top.
As always Stefan, you’re my perfect guide when it comes to sous vide recipes.
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Thanks Frans, that is great to hear. If you like you could of course add a bit of the vegetable mix to the tuna sauce, but only a little because it is too easy to disrupt the balance.
Dear Stefan, this recipe is made in heaven. I made the vitello tonnato a few times before, but never quite reached the level of succulence and flavour. I am definitely hooked on sousvide now! Thanks a lot for sharing. Never had a better vitello tonnato in my life, not even in Italy!
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That is great to hear, thanks for sharing!
thank you for your blog. It has helped me tremendously in my early sous vide days. In the recent years I have moved away from using sous vide as I find that an oven if used properly can yield similar results and the flavors always seems to be more concentrated (maybe from the evaporation which is not possible in the bag). I was wondering what your thoughts were?
I read through this article and you mentioned that flat iron needs a longer time as it is a tougher cut. In my experience the flat iron (top blade muscle without the internal tendon) is an extremely tender cut so when cooking it I treat it like a filet mignon. I would think at 55C the tendon doesn’t turn into gelatin, does it?
Thanks again for the Blog Stefan.
Preferring the oven or sous vide is mostly a matter of personal preference — if you prefer rare/medium rare then sous vide is preferred, but if the crust is more important then the oven is needed. For Vitello Tonnato sous vide yields a better result in my opinion, because for this dish uniform medium rare tender meat is more important than a crust. Dishes for which evaporation is important can also be made sous vide; you just have to perform the evaporation step separately.
The tenderness of flat iron varies a lot by the type of beef. Young grain-fed beef as is common in the United States is tender and can almost be treated like fillet mignon. But flat iron from older or grass-fed beef can be very tough. At 55C the tendon will remain tough, at least within cooking times that are realistic in practice. But it does very slowly tenderize the meat, which may be needed if the beef is tough.