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The Cow that Swims with The Fish

An Italian friend of mine was once offered parmesan cheese to go with the spaghetti alla vongole she had ordered. She looked at the (American) waiter and said “una vacca non sa nuotare con un pesce” which literally translated means “A cow cannot swim with a fish”

Her point being that in Italy eating fish with cheese is a treasonable offence. However there is one classic dish where the cow rubs along very nicely with the fish – ‘vitello tonnato’. It’s a real culinary oddity and any attempt to translate it into English is guaranteed to turn people off as it is literally cold sliced veal smothered in tuna sauce . It sounds pretty grim and to be honest when it’s made in the traditional way it’s no beauty queen  either (as evidenced by the picture below) but trust me on this one it’s a dish well and truly greater than the sum of its parts.

It can be served as part of a buffet, an antipasto platter or even as a first course but if you can get your guests to try it I guarantee it will become a firm favourite and maybe even a bit of a talking point.











Vitello Tonnato – Serves 6-8 as part of a buffet

1kg veal topside tied into a neat cylinder (Try to find British ‘Rose’ veal as it is RSPCA approved)

1 x 190gm tin of best quality tuna packed in olive oil, well-drained

3 egg yolks

1 clove garlic, crushed

5 flat anchovy fillets drained

3 tablespoons capers plus a few extra for garnish

1 table-spoon Dijon mustard

1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

500ml light olive oil


The day before you want to serve it roast the veal. Do this by seasoning it well and searing it in a hot pan first until you have a nice even brown colour all over. Place in a hot oven and cook to medium rare. This will take about 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 62 deg C.

Remove, wrap in foil and chill over night. The next day slice as thinly as possible with a very sharp knife.

Now make the sauce. Place all the ingredients except the olive oil into the food processor and puree until smooth. Now drizzle in the olive oil in a thin steady stream until you have a thick mayonnaise type consistency.

Take a large oval platter and start by covering the base with a thick layer of sauce. Now create alternate layers of veal slices and sauce ending with sauce. Use a pallet knife to smooth it all off so that no meat is showing (I told you it was no looker). Wrap in cling film and chill until needed. It will get better over the course of 2 or 3 days if you can resist it that long. Scatter over the extra capers before serving.

Buon appetito!

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