Tonnato Sauce – Not Just for Cold Veal Anymore

Some things sound really amazing the first time you hear about them, and other things, like this tonnato sauce, really don’t. I was probably in my early twenties when this first appeared on my culinary radar as, “vitello tonnato.” At the time, a plate of cold, thinly-sliced poached veal dressed with a chilled, runny tuna sauce didn’t make a lot of sense, but I tried it anyway, and have been a fan ever since.

I don’t often serve it with the traditional veal, as in never, but ironically that’s the only thing I don’t serve it with. It’s tremendous as a spread, and equally impressive as an all-purpose, all-world dip. You can also turn any basic potato salad into the stuff of legends...well, at least picnic legends.


I have to give credit where credit's due, and admit I stole the idea for my "tonnato tartare tartine" from one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, Bar Tartine. They do it much better, but even my primitive version was incredible, so if you're into that kind of thing, I highly recommend it.

As I said in the clip, there are only a few ingredients, and they're all “to taste,” so you should expect to adjust. I like mine with lots of everything, plus some garlic and cayenne, but that’s just me. By the way, in keeping with the spirit of the original dish, if you do happen to have some cold, leftover roast chicken, turkey, or pork, slice it thin, and slather this stuff all over it, and enjoy one of the best cold plates ever. I really hope you give this tonnato sauce a try soon. Enjoy!


Ingredients for about 2 cups tonnato sauce:
1 (7-ounce) jar olive oil-packed tuna, plus reserved olive oil
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons capers, drained
3 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 or 2 cloves minced garlic
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne

For the spring vegetable topping:
equal parts shaved raw carrot and thinly sliced raw sugar snap peas or snow peas, tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Topped with arugula sprouts or thinly-sliced arugula leaves.

For the raw beef topping:
ice cold diced lean beef (I used eye of round), tossed with salt, pepper, olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Topped with arugula sprouts or thinly-sliced arugula leaves.