Vitello tonnato is a northern Italian classic mistrusted by those encountering it for the first time (sorry, veal with tuna mayonnaise?), but adored by legions of Italophiles. I am not sure why it took me so long to move from ordering it in every good Italian restaurant I ever visited, to realising that I could very easily make it at home, but now I know how straightforward it is, there’s no looking back.

I’ve even conquered my fear of homemade mayonnaise and discovered, after years of bad-temperedly ruining at least one lot for every batch I made, that going heavy on lemon juice and egg yolk from the start makes it all ok. So, wine. I like drinking red with vitello tonnato, but a red that has good acidity and savour, and isn’t too heavy.


The perfect match for me is nebbiolo, the tannic, pale coloured barolo-grape from Piemonte. These don’t come cheap, though I’ve managed to source one. Two other, less expensive red grapes from the same area are also equal to the task: barbera and dolcetto.

If you want to try a white, then the cortese grape, which makes gavi di gavi, is also local and its clean, lemony-herbaceous bite is perfect with the salty olives, tuna and pink meat. In the same vein, vermentino or verdicchio make excellent alternatives. On a summer’s evening, a pale Provençal rosé, or a rosé made from sangiovese, also rises to the occasion. Pick a pink that tastes more of herbs than it does of strawberries.

Vitello tonnato


Add new potatoes, rocket salad, chopped tomatoes and black olives,and then it will serve 3-4 as a main course.Reboil and strain the veal stock and freeze for another time,it’s great for soups or stews.If you don’t feel comfortable using this classic cooking method, poach the veal for 30 minutes and let it rest out of the water for 30 minutes, then chill.

celery 1 stick,roughly sliced
carrot 1,roughly sliced
bay leaf 1
thyme 2 sprigs
onion 1,peeled and quartered
veal joint 700g (ask for girello or eye fillet)
egg yolks 2
lemon 1,juiced
Dijon mustard 1 tsp
tinned tuna in oil 100g (undrained weight),
the best quality you can find
anchovies 2
capers 1 tbsp,rinsed and drained
olive oil 100ml
rocket to serve

  • Put the celery, carrot, herbs and onion in a pan that is just big enough to fit the veal. Add 1.2 litres of water, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Add the veal, checking that it is just covered by the water. Bring back to the boil then turn off the heat, cover and leave to cool for three hours. The internal temperature should be 55C or above. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour, until firm enough to carve easily.

    vitello tonnato

    vitello tonnato

  • To make the mayonnaise, put the egg yolks, half the lemon juice and mustard in a blender. Switchon, and with the motor running, pour the oil in a thin stream. When all the oil is absorbed, add the anchovies, capers and tuna, and blend until combined. Season to taste with salt and the remaining lemon juice. Slice the veal as thinly as you can, and serve with the mayonnaise drizzled on top and a few rocket leaves to decorate.

Four to try

best wine to go with vitello tonnato

best wine to go with vitello tonnato

  1. Taste the Difference Barbera d’Asti 2013, Italy, 13.5% (Sainsbury’s, £6) A top-notch supermarket wine, this: brightly juicy like black and red cherries.Also perfect with pizza.
  2. Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2014, Italy, 12.5% (Waitrose, £5.99) Fresh green herbs and citrus dominate this excellent, crisp, refreshing white from central Italy.
  3. Château Léoube, Rosé de Léoube, Côtes de Provence 2014, France, 13% (Daylesford, around £16.50) Almost impossibly pale, incredibly sophisticated rosé from Provence.
  4. Maretti Langhe Rosso, 2013, Italy, 13.5% (Majestic, £8.99, down from £11.99 when you mix & match 2 bottles) A glorious blend of two red grapes, barbera and nebbiolo, from one of the greatest wine producing regions in Italy.