Piedmont, where it’s called vitel tonnè, may stake its claim on this dish of thinly sliced, slow roasted veal (vitello), coated with a purée of white tuna, eggs and anchovy (the tonnato sauce), served slightly chilled. But while living in Italy, I discovered some sophisticated versions of the dish can also be found in Lombardy, where it’s part of a canon of breezy-but-elegant preparations nibbled upon by the spa-lunch set in Milan. While working on a project with Chef Mark Ladner, we shared more than one discussion about our mutual affection for this dish, which has gone in and out of fashion (currently very much in). Ladner’s method for making it was inspired by a technique used at a destination restaurant in the southeastern corner of Lombardy called Ristorante Ambasciata-Quistello. Floored in layers of Persian rugs, walled with vintage books and illuminated by silver candelabras, Ambasciata is a long-standing haunt of northern Italian sophisticates. Its recipe is different from most you’ll find stateside because it treats the roast veal and the tuna sauce as one cooking procedure. The result: a veal roast that’s delicately seasoned by the flavors of the tuna braise, and a braise base for the tonnato sauce that’s been slow cooked with the veal, rending a deeply flavored emulsion. Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent some time tinkering with how to successfully make this style of vitello tonnato at home.
For the veal and tonnato sauce: (to be done well in advance)
Preheat oven to 250ºF. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit the diameter of a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or a wide heavy saucepan with a lid. Cut a small hole in center of the parchment round.
In the Dutch oven or saucepan, heat 1 ½ tablespoons of oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and carrots and cook until tender and lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the stock, tuna and anchovies; increase the heat to high and bring the liquid just to a boil, then remove the pot from the heat. Add the veal and make sure it is mostly submerged in the liquid (add up to 1 cup water, if needed, to just cover the meat), then cover with the prepared parchment paper and the lid. Transfer pot to the oven and bake until the internal temperature of the veal reaches 135ºF, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Transfer the veal and the braising liquid (including the solids) to a large, nonreactive bowl; cover and al – low the meat to cool completely in the refrigerator. Once cool, remove the veal from the braising liquid (reserving the liquid and solids), and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use, up to 36 hours.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer all the solids from the braising liquid to a blender, 1 tablespoon of the capers, and enough of the braising liquid to cover the solids by ½ inch. Purée to combine. Add the yolks from the hard-boiled eggs and the mustard. Continue to purée until smooth. Stream in more of the braising liquid by the spoonful to the blender as you purée, thinning as you go until you reach the consistency of a loose custard. Season with salt to taste. Then, with the blender running, add 1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and purée until creamy and smooth.
Refrigerate, covered, until thickened and chilled, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
To serve: (day of—maybe it’s a Tuesday)
Remove veal and sauce from the refrigerator. Carefully remove the truss strings from the veal and cut against the grain into very thin, 1/ 8-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices on serving plates, and evenly spread the chilled sauce over the veal. Garnish the plates with a few of the remaining capers, a pinch of chives and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Serves 4 to 6.
Conventional wisdom says this dish should be paired with a regional wine sibling, and Langhe Bianco or Arneis make fine accompaniments. But lean into the decadent and elegant side of the dish, and you may find Franciacorta (a traditional method sparkler from Lombardy) a more exciting pairing. The dish pairs unexpectedly well with the slightly fruity, rich notes of Franciacorta rosé. After all—the dish alone is reason to celebrate with some bubbles. Even on a Tuesday.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!
Last Updated: June 1, 2023