This classic Italian dish is basically tuna mayonnaise
Tuna + mayo? Primo flavor pair.
This classic recipe makes it even better with capers and anchovies. Then smoothes the mixture into a velvety sauce.
Tonnato sauce is great on veal (and other meats, too). If you thicken it a bit, it turns into an excellent dip for crudités or chips.
Recipe: Tonnato (Tuna) Sauce and Dip
This sauce plays a starring role in Vitello tonnato (cold sliced roast veal with tonnato sauce), a classic Italian dish. But tonnato sauce also pairs beautifully with roast pork or poultry.
For this post, we focus on how to make the basic sauce (or dip). But watch this space: In an upcoming post, we’ll use tonnato sauce as an ingredient in a dish.
To make tonnato sauce, you first make mayonnaise (or just use commercial jarred mayo, which is what we’re doing). Then add canned tuna, anchovies (or olives if you prefer), capers, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. Whirl it all together in a food processor or blender. Done.
If you want to use tonnato sauce as a dip, go light on the olive oil. If sauce is your goal, keep adding olive oil until the mixture is thinned to your preferred consistency. (The pictures accompanying this post show the recipe prepared as a dip.) BTW, even if you thin it, this sauce should still be pretty thick. Pourable, but thick.
This recipe takes 5 to 10 minutes to prepare. You can use it immediately or refrigerate it first (we prefer a bit of chill on it).
Tonnato sauce will keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 cup mayonnaise (see Notes)
- 5- to 7-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil (no need to drain the olive oil)
- 2 to 3 anchovy fillets (to taste; may substitute olives – see Notes)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons drained capers (to taste)
- ~2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (depending on how thick you want the mixture to be)
- salt to taste (very optional)
- Add all the ingredients (except olive oil) to a mini food processor or a blender. Whirl until the ingredients are well incorporated (you want to achieve a fairly smooth consistency).
- Add the extra virgin olive oil gradually (a couple tablespoons at a time) until it’s incorporated into the mixture. Add just enough olive oil to get the consistency you want.
- Taste. Add salt if necessary (we’re betting you won’t need any) and serve.
- For this recipe, quantities are very much to taste. Our recipe is pretty standard, but feel free to play with quantities until the mixture tastes good to you. In particular, you may want to start with about half the amount of tuna that we specify, then add more to taste.
- We don’t think this dish needs a garnish. But you could top it with some chopped parsley. Or maybe sprinkle on a few whole capers.
- You won’t taste the anchovies in this dish (really). But if you can’t abide the idea of anchovies, just substitute some olives (we like to use black ones). Start with about a tablespoon.
- We generally use oil-packed (not salt-packed) anchovies when we make this dish. A can of them contains more anchovies than you need for this recipe. Just reserve the rest for another use (they make a terrific garnish for Caesar Salad).
- When we use tuna packed in olive oil, we just pour the entire can into the food processor (Step 1) – we don’t bother to drain the tuna.
- We often use prepared mayonnaise in this dish because it’s easy. But tonnato sauce will taste better – and be more “authentic” – if you use Homemade Mayonnaise. Homemade mayo takes just a couple of minutes to make. If you’re planning to make your own mayo, just mix it in a food processor or blender, then add the other ingredients for tonnato sauce. BTW, if you go this route, we suggest using extra virgin olive oil to make the mayo. Your tonnato sauce will taste much better.
- When using prepared mayo for tonnato sauce, we make sure to use a full-flavored olive oil for the sauce. When using our own homemade mayo, we opt for a lighter-flavored olive oil both to make the mayo and once we get to the sauce-mixing stage.
- There are many variations on this recipe. We’ve seen versions that substitute canned salmon for tuna. Some cooks add a garlic clove. Others substitute yogurt or sour cream for some (or all) of the mayo.
- To use this recipe as a sauce, just spoon it over servings of cold, sliced meat. As noted above, the classic meat is veal. But it also works well with pork (or ham) and poultry.
- You could probably serve it over fish, too, though we haven’t tried that. Tonnato sauce with tuna, anyone?
- When using tonnato sauce as a dip, we like to serve it with sliced cucumbers or carrot sticks. Or potato chips. You can serve the dip in a large communal bowl or in small, individual ramekins.
- You can use tonnato sauce instead of mayo to change up some traditional mayo-based recipes. For instance, try combining tonnato sauce with chopped hard-boiled egg yolks to make stuffed eggs. Or maybe use it to make a summer pasta salad (recipe here).
“Tons of flavor in this dip,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “Or should I say tonnatos?”
“So we agree that this recipe is a keeper?” I said.
“Yup,” said Mrs K R. “It’s tunanimous.”
“As puns go, that was not very sofishticated,” I said.
“Puns are supposed to be terrible.” said Mrs K R. “Anchovy it yet?”
Nah. They still sound fishy to me.
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