Salsa Tonnata - Tonnato Sauce

Tonnato Sauce without a Recipe

While everybody’s talking about turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, today’s post celebrates leftovers with an Italian spin. So let me ask you something: Have you ever had Vitel Tonne’? [Right now you may be scratching your head wondering what the heck this is, just bear with me, please.]

This Piedmont dish is not very well known on this side of the Atlantic. A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with Random Cravings and we ordered it. Aside from refreshing my recollection of how good it is, the second step was pairing it with something completely American. If you’ve never had Vitel Tonne’ let me describe it to you: it’s a roast beef or braised beef thinly sliced and served with a tuna and caper sauce. The original recipe was first found in the Artusi cookbook in the ‘800 and it’s been subjected to many interpretations, some including mayo and even tofu.

Tonnata @ Piccola Cucina

The sauce, Salsa Tonnata, is one of those preparations that lends itself to a “no recipe” application. It’s basically an emulsion of tuna, hard boiled eggs, anchovies, capers, lemon and EVOO plus some other liquid (pan drippings from the roast beef or even plain chicken stock). It is extremely simple and delicious with meat, poultry or even vegetables.

Some ingredients intelligence first:

  1. Chose the Right Tuna: Use canned tuna in EVOO as it packs the most flavor. Don’t use the average chicken of the sea as it will taste, well… Like it comes from a can. Look for a good brand of preserved tuna, possibly in a glass jar so you can see the fillet. Make sure to drain the EVOO that comes with the tuna and use fresh one, or the sauce will be too fishy.
  2. Preserved Capers: I use the ones that are preserved in vinegar as they don’t add any salt to the preparation and they lend some depth of flavor with their zesty taste.
  3. (Optional) Anchovies: use them if you like them, skip them if you don’t. Nobody will take offense. But if you do use it make sure that the resulting sauce is not overly salty.
  4. Thinning the sauce: if you have roasted or braised meat to go along with the sauce, you can use strained pan drippings, but plain chicken or vegetable broth will do, just make sure to add a tablespoon at a time.

And now for the technique:

  • This sauce is an emulsion, similar to mayo. While some people use mayo and tuna to make this sauce, I strongly recommend you to avoid this shortcut. While store-bought mayo is stable, home made mayo may very well break down on you. And it’s a whole lot more fatty than it should be, too!
  • The tuna and hard boiled eggs will thicken the sauce but if there is a dairy allergy you can use bread, instead. Make sure to remove the crust as it wouldn’t blend as smoothly.
  • The ratio can obviously be adapted depending on the texture you want for the sauce. If you want to drizzle it you’ll add more liquid, but if you want to spread it in a sandwich you’ll limit the amount of broth added to the blender. For a sauce that is half way between a dipping sauce and a vinaigrette, the perfect ratio seems to be should be 6 oz of drained tuna per each large hardboiled egg, the juice of half a lemon, half a cup of EVOO and 2\3 of a cup of broth.
  • Placing all the “dry” ingredients in the blender or food processor, add all the lemon juice and pulse. With the motor running drizzle in the oil. Finally, when the oil is incorporated add the broth 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired texture.
  • This sauce will keep in the fridge for about 1 week.  For a traditional use it can be used to marinate slices of cooked meat or poultry. It makes a lovely alternative to mayo or a dipping sauce for vegetables. I am going to put it on leftover turkey breast slices for a quick cold cuts platter on Friday.Enjoy

  • 6 oz of drained tuna
  • 1 large hardboiled egg,
  • the juice of half a lemon,
  • half a cup of EVOO
  • 1 tbsp of capers in vinegar, rinsed and dried
  • 2 anchovies, rinsed and dried
  • and 2/3 of a cup of broth.
  • Place, the tuna, egg, capers and anchovies in a blender or food processor.
  • Add the lemon juice and pulse until the ingredients start to blend.
  • With the motor running on slow start drizzling the oil until it is completely incorporated.
  • Start adding the broth until you reach the desired texture.