Vitello Tonnato is one of those classic dishes that are not ‘trendy’, but that I keep preparing because they are so delicious. It is originally from the Italian region of Piemonte. My blogging friend Stefano recommended this book about Piemontese cooking to me: “La cucina del Piemonte collinare e vignaiolo” by Giovanni Goria. I had acquired a whole eye of round of veal, and thought it would be nice to prepare Vitello Tonnato according to Goria’s recipe. In Piemontese dialect, the dish is called vitel tonné.
The book is in Italian and like many Italian cookbooks, leaves out many details as it is implied that the reader already knows how to cook and will fill in the blanks according to personal taste and experience. Below is my English translation of the recipe in the book for “old-fashioned vitello tonnato with poached meat”. The book was written in 1990.
“Nowadays, restaurants make vitel tonné with mayonnaise, but that was unknown 100 and more years ago by our forefathers, especially in the countryside. So here is the most classic and tasty method, as it was used especially in the countryside of Langhe and Alba. An eye of round is poached in a court-stock of water, white wine, a bit of vinegar, all the vegetables, aromatic herbs, juniper berries, spices, and black pepper. It is not overcooked and subsequently sliced by hand in slices that are not very thin. The sauce is made by chopping with the mezzaluna plenty of good tuna, some fresh anchovy fillets, 5 or 6 egg semi-hard egg yolks, a handful of capers and a handful of parsley, moistening the whole with a bit of the cooking liquid. To this black pepper and a cup of good oil from an oil mill are added, which will render the whole semiliquid, as well as a bit of vinegar and lemon juice. On an oval serving dish, cover slices of eye of round that are not too thin with the sauce, to moisten them and make them more and more soft. One could garnish the whole with quarters of hardboiled eggs, porcini mushrooms sottolio, and small sweet onions (cipollini di Ivrea in dolcebrusco). The sauce is unstable because of the tuna and egg, which can darken, if it is not covered well with aluminum foil. The dish is prepared a few hours before and served in such a way that the meat is completely covered by the sauce.”
Here is how I’ve filled in the blanks:
“all the vegetables”: onion, carrot, and celery
“aromatic herbs”: bay leaf
It is also interesting to note that apart from the recipe’s title, the type of meat (veal) is not mentioned. And that “good oil from an oil mill” (olio buono di frantoio) obviously refers to high-quality extra virgin olive oil.
In my version I’ve tried to stay true to the flavors of the traditional recipe, but I’ve used sous vide for the veal and the egg yolks. Thus the veal will be more tender and juicy, but the final dish would still be recognized by someone from the late 1800s. Rather than poaching the veal in the stock (which would draw out a lot of flavor from the meat into the stock, of which only a very small portion is used in the final dish), I’ve mimicked the effect of adding a bit of the cooking stock to the sauce, by making some highly concentrated stock with the same flavors. This sous vide version does not require more effort than the traditional version, and it turned out delicious. I didn’t have the porcini sottolio and cipollini di Ivrea, so I just used some capers for garnish.
Vitello tonnato can be served as antipasto or as secondo piatto.
For 6 servings as secondo piatto or 8-12 servings as antipasto
900 grams (2 lbs) veal eye of round
11 grams (1 1/2 tsp) salt
30 grams (1/4 cup) diced carrot
30 grams (1/4 cup) diced celery
30 grams (1/4 cup) diced onion
60 ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine
3 juniper berries
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
15 ml (1 Tbsp) white wine vinegar
80 ml (1/3 cup) good quality extra virgin olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste, about 1 Tbsp
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsp salted capers, rinsed + more for garnish
3 anchovy fillets
225 grams (.5 lb) canned tuna (net weight after draining)
Cook 4 eggs sous vide at 64C/147F for 1 hour. After 1 hour, place the eggs in cold water to cool them, and lower the sous vide temperature to 55C/131F for the veal. (Wait until the water has cooled off to 55C/131F before putting the veal in the water, or add cold water to cool the water more quickly if needed.)
Rub the veal with 1.2% of salt by weight (that is 11 grams of salt for 900 grams of veal, or 1/2 Tbsp table salt for 2 lbs of veal).
Place the veal on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
Prepare the celery, carrot, onion, peppercorns, clove, juniper berries, and bay leaf.
Put 30 grams (1/4 cup) diced carrot, 30 grams (1/4 cup) diced celery, 30 grams (1/4 cup) diced onion, 60 ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine, 3 juniper berries, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 1 clove, 1 bay leaf and 15 ml (1 Tbsp) white wine vinegar in a saucepan, together with 250 ml (1 cup of water), and bring to a boil.
Simmer over low heat until about 2 tablespoons of liquid is left.
Strain the liquid through a sieve, pressing down on the solids with a spoon to get as much liquid and flavor out as possible.
After the salted veal has allowed to rest for 1 hour, pat it dry with paper towels.
Vacuum seal the veal. If you have a chamber vacuum sealer or you use a ziploc bag and the water displacement method, you can include the concentrated stock in the bag.
I measured the veal to find out the cooking time. My eye of round was about 8 centimeters wide…
And about 7 centimeters thick. So that is pretty close to a cylinder/sausage shape with a diameter of 7.5 centimeters.
According to the table in this article, the minimum cooking time for a cylinder of 7.5 centimeters is 2 hours and 50 minutes. To be on the safe side, I decided to cook the veal for 4 hours. A bit of extra time will only make the meat more tender.
Cook the veal for 4 hours at 55C/131F. You may need a different time if your veal has a different shape or thickness.
Chill the veal in cold water with ice cubes, while it is still in the plastic bag. Chilling the veal completely will take about the same time as heating it through, i.e. 2 hours and 50 minutes. Replace the ice as it melts. Chilling in water with ice cubes happens a lot quicker than in the refrigerator.
When the veal has cooled off, take it out of the bag. Reserve the juices left in the bag for the sauce.
When cooking eggs sous vide at 64C/147F, the yolk will become semisolid (like a custard), but the egg whites will remain soft. Break the eggs into a bowl…
…and take out the egg yolks with a spoon. The egg whites can be saved for another use (such as making a Siberian omelette). (Please note that although the egg whites are still soft, they are completely pasteurized.)
The traditional recipe specifies chopping the sauce by hand, but a food processor will give a very similar result with less effort. Just make sure that you do not blend the sauce until it is completely smooth, but leave it slightly chunky.
Put the tuna, capers, anchovy fillets, parsley, and egg yolks in the bowl of a food processor.
Add the juices from the bag. (And if you did not add it to the bag, this is also the right time to include the concentrated stock.)
Process until it is well mixed but not completely smooth. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
Add the olive oil…
…and lemon juice to taste.
Pulse a couple of times to incorporate the oil and lemon juice. Taste whether any more black pepper or lemon juice is required.
Slice the veal, not too thin.
Arrange the veal on a serving platter in a single layer. I made individual portions on separate plates. Spread out the sauce on top. The amount of sauce is just enough to cover the veal and to have the right balance between veal and sauce. Garnish with capers.
Allow the veal to ‘marinate’ in the sauce in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, but take it out of the refrigerator about half an hour before serving, so it will not be too cold as you serve it.
The most appropriate wine pairing is a white wine from Piemonte such as a Gavi or Arneis, but this is also great with Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from the Marche.
These vegan pumpkin ravioli are all about pumpkin: delicate parcels of fresh pasta made with pumpkin seed flour, stuffed with roasted pumpkin, garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds, and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil.