Vitello Tonnato – the best way to use up left-over veal

“What’s led to its [vitello tonnato] resurfacing on British menus is the acceptance, learnt from south-east Asian cooking, that meat and fish sit well together. We don’t cook with veal much here; we prefer pork. The dish is brilliant with pork… it’s even better with tomatoes”

Tim Hayward, The Financial Times, 5 November 2021

You may find it surprising to find this classic summer dish being posted in December but this month it’s all about keeping down the cooking workload to the absolute minimum and vitello tonnato is the most sublime thing you can do with leftover veal. As Tim Hayward comments, it’s also great with leftover pork.

As to the tomatoes…. I would never think of making it without them, I simply couldn’t imagine it… I had to go back to my italian cookery bible to check that, indeed, classically, this dish did not include them.

Conveniently also, when artistically arranged on a beautiful vintage oval serving plate it makes a splendid centrepiece for the table so it fits in well with all the entertaining, the guests, the festivities – although traditionally in Italy, its country of origin, it is the culinary focal point of the mid-August holiday, Ferragosto.

Pared down, if you already have the veal, it is a super-quick store cupboard confection, quickly assembled from a jar of mayonnaise, a tin of tuna and a handful of capers. Although quick to put together, it’s better left in the fridge for a couple of days for the flavours to meld.

An intriguing, sophisticated ‘surf ‘n turf’ medley of veal and tuna, it has a fresh taste – the perfect pick-me-up for jaded, over-indulging Christmas palates. Added depth comes from the anchovies, but rather than mashing three or four and then having the rest of the jar or tin mouldering in the fridge, I use Gentleman’s Relish which is endlessly useful for adding to stews, gravies, dressings, and all kinds of other things. Follow this link for much more on Gentleman’s Relish.

It’s not at all bad the following day, when the meat will have absorbed the juices and flavours.

Vitello tonnato is the Italian for ‘tuna-ed veal’.

Recipe for vitello tonnato

Serves 4 quite greedy people or 6 less hungry ones; 450g of meat will be enough for 5/6. If you use more meat, make a bit more sauce


  • 300 – 450g/10 oz-1 lb sliced roasted rolled veal in bacon – effectively whatever you have left – if you have more than 400g/14 oz you will need some more mayonnaise …. and maybe an extra smaller tin of tuna
  • 1 x 400g/14 oz (that’s a BIG one, not one of those piddly short ones) tuna in olive oil (drain the tuna, reserving the olive oil)
  • juice and zest of a lemon
  • 8 tbsps mayonnaise
  • 10 cherry tomatoes halved or 3 tomatoes chopped
  • about 15-20 (about ¼-⅓ cup) pitted black olives – if you must buy ones in brine go here to see how to make them edible
  • ½ tsp Gentleman’s Relish; or three or four mashed, tinned, anchovies
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped quite small
  • 2-3 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges
  • handful of salad leaves
  • 12 grinds Indonesian long pepper…or, even better, some Urfa pepper flakes
  • capers – about thirty (¼ cup) – rinsed thoroughly and soaked in milk – to be authentic these are needed, but many people don’t like capers, so you can serve them separately at the table for guest to help themselves.
  • crusty bread to serve


  1. Weigh the veal first. Then slice it very thinly and lay out on a big serving platter.
  2. Mix the drained tuna (only drain if there is a lot of extra oil in the tin, RESERVE THE OIL), lemon zest and juice, six tablespoons of mayonnaise, the celery, mashed anchovies or Gentleman’s Relish, the capers, and pepper or Urfa pepper flakes. If you are using Gentleman’s Relish make sure it is mixed in well.
  3. Surround the meat with the (shredded, if necessary) salad leaves.
  4. Spread the tuna mixture over the meat mixture, to cover every bit of meat (this stops it going dry).
  5. Add the olives and sliced tomatoes and eggs on the surrounding bed of salad leaves.
  6. Mix the remaining mayonnaise with two tablespoons of the reserved tuna olive oil (or ordinary olive oil if there is none remaining from the tin). Dribble over the surrounding salad bed. 
  7. Serve with crusty fresh bread. 
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