Italian Tuna veal recipe -Vitel Tonné retro from the 80s

The history of vitel tonnè / vitello tonnato seems to start from the 80s, among the typical dishes of the period: prosciutto and melon, strawberry risotto, and vodka sauce pasta.

 However, it must be said that veal with tuna sauce is decidedly older, and the original recipe of this dish is different from the modern recipe. veal with tuna sauce is an ancient and very Italian dish, valid both as an appetizer and as a second course, and is now coming back into fashion.

How to cook the Vitello Tonnato

Recipe Servings 8

800 grams= 28 oz. veal Joint

1 carrot

1 onion

1 potato


For the sauce with mayonnaise

4-5 anchovy fillets/ 1 tbsp. anchovy paste

170 grams = 6 oz.Italian Tuna fish

1 tbsp capers

Half lemon juices

1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbsp fresh parsley (optional)

 3 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tbs. broth prepared cooking the meat

If you prefer avoiding the mayonnaise :

 4-5 anchovy fillets/ 1 tbsp. anchovy paste

250 grams=9 oz. Italian Tuna fish

3 hard boiled eggs

1 tbsp capers

Half lemon juices

1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbsp fresh parsley (optional)

2-3 tbs. broth prepared cooking the meat

Slice the carrot, celery, and onion into big pieces.

Pour 2 tbsp. EVOO in a pot.

Brown the meat in the oil, till it gets color on each side

Add the vegetables.

Pour water enough to cover it, 2 pinches of salt, and pepper.

Cook the veal at medium and turn it in every 15 minutes. Cook it until tender. (ca. 1 hour/1-hour ½)).

When ready, take it out of the liquid and allow it to cool.

 Slice it thin and it’s easier to slice it when it’s cool.

 Place the anchovies, tuna, capers, lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley in a blender and taste for salt.

Fold the purée carefully into the mayonnaise adding the broth from cooking the meat.

You can avoid the mayonnaise adding the hard-boiled eggs and more broth.

Sliced the cold veal, and place it slightly overlapping on a serving dish.

 Spread the tuna sauce on it.

Cover and refrigerate

How to serve the Vitel Tonnè

Serve it as an appetizer or a meat dish.

Serve with a decoration of olives, gherkins, or other pickles or with fresh lemon slices and a few bits of parsley

History of vitello tonnato

Vitel Tonnè or Vitello Tonnato is a Piedmontese recipe of the early eighteenth century when the tuna did not even appear in it. “Tonné” derived from the French “tanné”, which meant “tanned” or because cooked as if it were tuna. At that time, it was a poor and popular dish, cooked with leftover meat boiled for a long time to obtain softness. 

But how did anchovies and tuna arrive in Piedmont? It will be hard to believe, but anchovies got there with the smugglers. The smugglers, since the Middle Ages, went to Liguria to buy salt at affordable prices, and then resell it at home in Piedmont at higher prices. To hide the salt, they covered it with layers of anchovies and later also tuna. So, anchovies became very usual in Piedmont.

The recipe expanded throughout Northern Italy thanks above all to Pellegrino Artusi who, in 1891, describes the recipe in his “Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well”. (First official book of Italian cuisine) and inserts tuna in the sauce.

In the ’60 it became better known everywhere in Italy and mayonnaise was added.

In the 80s it became a must of very fancy dinners, such as the vodka sauce.

Forgotten for some decades now it’s having a new life, with some changes according to the various chefs.

Extra notes about the ingredients:

Veal: when in Italy we talk about veal we mean Young beef.

Calves in Europe and UK are raised on farms and are 35 weeks of age.

Close-confinement veal crates are banned in Europe and Uk since 2007.

Tuna fish: In 2015 Greenpeace ranked the best Italian canned tuna based on sustainability and fairness policy, the species caught, the fishing methods used and the information they provide to consumers and approved various producing companies.