In the 19th century, when Vitello Tonnato first began appearing in cook books, Piedmont was allied with coastal Liguria, where tuna was canned. Along with the tuna trade, oil, lemons and capers — the other elements of tonnato sauce — also made their way into Piedmont. The tuna was treated just like these other elements, as a condiment.
What Vitello Tonnato did not have back then was mayonnaise. That is certainly a 20th-century addition. Before, the tuna would likely have been pounded with the capers and herbs and oil to give it a creaminess. Mayonnaise, in a way, is cheating. But cheating with delicious results.
People who cook Vitello Tonnato are often proprietary about their method, much in the same way French cooks are about coq au vin. Just looking at the photos here, you will appreciate the differences even in the look of the final dishes interpreted by a variety of chefs.
Below are a few examples of the varieties of opinions:
- Some begin by browning a veal roast in olive oil, then simmer it with carrotAnother good reason to eat carrots–believed to be a stimulant to the male. The phallus shaped carrot has been associated with stimulation since ancient times and was used by early Middle Eastern royalty to aid seduction. High vitamins and beta-carotene. Perhaps a justification for a piece of carrot cake?, celery, onion, white wine and bay leaf. The meat is cut thickly and sauces it with a tuna mayonnaise made with vegetable oil.
- Some chefs insist on braising the veal in pure, unsalted water with vegetables.
- Some make the sauce with olive oil and is dense with tuna (canned, packed in oil). then layer the veal and sauce so that the veal is completely indistinguishable from the sauce.
- Often chefs serve the dish with the sliced veal prettily fanned out and a little mound of sauce on the side. This defeats the very purpose of the dish, which is to give the tuna sauce time to infiltrate the veal so that the flavours of one and the delicate texture of the other become fully integrated.