Tag Archives: VItello tonnato


Christmas for me is not just cooking for Christmas eve (as is more traditional in my household) or Christmas day. It is more to do about having a range of simple ingredients on hand so that I can prepare the odd meal quickly, just in case I end up feeding some one. It is the festive season after all but whatever happens during this very silly season in the year, I like to be in control.

In my first book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, I have written:

Every cook and professional chef has a way of doing things.
It is said that you don’t leave your life behind, you take it with you.
My mother’s surname is Leone. Often daughters acquire some of their
knowledge and skills in the kitchen from watching their mothers and, like the
Sicilian proverb, I am a leone (a lion) in control of my kitchen.

In this post I want to revisit an easy chicken dish that is Vitello Tonnato but not made with vitello (veal) but chicken. The word tonnato comes from the word tonno (tuna).

This recipe could keep you sane and will gain you many compliments.


Chicken fillets, capers and a tin of good tuna in oil are easy to get and these are likely to be ingredients that you have in your pantry. Mayonnaise can be made in no time with eggs and extra virgin olive oil. Anchovies taste good in this dish but not everyone likes anchovies so I did not use them on this occasion.

This dish is so simple to make, but it will be very much appreciated and enjoyed. Great for summer (as in Australia) or any season. It can be – but it also makes an impressive antipasto at any time.

Your guest could be familiar with Vitello Tonnato, but they are not likely to be familiar with Pollo alla Messinese – the word pollo or gallina  is chicken and alla Messinese  is as  prepared by the Sicilians from Messina.

I have written this recipe before so I will just include some photos as I have made this many times (for recipe see link below).

On this occasion I  wanted to make some chicken broth (another staple in my fridge) so I used a whole chicken and two chicken breasts. Then removed the breast from the whole chicken and used it with the two other breasts to make Pollo alla Messinese for six people. I cooked the chicken and when it was nearly cooked I added the chicken breasts whole. I then cooked it for an extra five minutes and then switched off the heat. The residual heat will cook the fillets.

Photo: tuna, capers and mayonnaise.


Photo: breasts are sliced, tuna sauce has been blended but because it was too thick I added more mayonnaise.


One layer of mayonnaise on the bottom, one layer of breasts. Three layers in all, topped with the sauce last and a sprinkling of capers. Pink peppercorns also have visual impact.



Pollo Alla Messinese (a Cold Chicken Dish Similar to Vitello Tonnato From Messina)

 Brodo di Gallina (chicken Broth)

Maionese (Mayonnaise)

And by the way, Insalata Russa, made with Mayonnaise is also good…and festive.

Vitello Tonnato


BUONE FESTE to everyone! (Seasons Greetings)

This plate is one of my mother’s. She painted it in 1994 and her name was Elena (nee Leone).

And she really was a lion in her kitchen.




We have been having such beautiful autumn weather here in Melbourne, perfect for Sunday lunches and picnics. In the northern hemisphere some of you are experiencing spring weather, so you can enjoy the following dish as well.

Vitello tonnato (vitello = veal, tonno = tuna, tonnato = refers to the style of cooking or preparation) is a perfect dish for this sort of occasion. It can be prepared the day before or assembled in the morning to allow the flavours to combine but what I particularly like, is that I can drink and talk and laugh and eat with my guests rather than being busy in the kitchen!!


What is also important is that I can buy pole-caught, sustainable, tinned tuna from Aldi. Now isn’t that good?

There are various ways to make vitello tonnato. Several recipes boil the veal, I have always pot-roasted it – my mother always did and this method of cooking the veal intensifies the flavours. Some cooks use the vegetables and jellied stock to combine with the tuna, capers and anchovies to make the sauce; others add egg yolk from hard boiled eggs to the sauce. I combine the jelled sauce from the pot roast and some of the vegetables with the tuna, anchovies and capers with egg mayonnaise – this is also what my mother always did. It makes the sauce smoother and more creamy. I do this way because I like the taste of it and not because it’s how my mother did.

Some say that vitello tonnato originated in Piemonte (Piedmont) and maybe this is why my Piedmontese aunt, who lived in Genova, used to make it for us (she was married to my uncle, my dad’s Sicilian brother – what a culinary combination that was!). Maybe it did originate in Piemonte, but as a child growing up in Trieste in the 50’s it was often an acceptable entrée on special occasions.

One thing is certain, vitello tonnato obviously gets around. A variation using chicken (pollo) is served in the Sicilian port of Messina as pollo alla Messinese.

For this recipe see:

Pollo Alla Messinese (a Cold Chicken Dish Similar to Vitello Tonnato From Messina)

For the pot roasted veal:
girello, (topside or nut, or silver side of yearling veal – girello is lean) 800g-1k
extra virgin oilive oil, ½-¾ cup
onion, carrot, celery stick, 1 of each, left whole
white-wine, 1 cup
salt, black pepper,  to taste
broth, 1 cup, or broth cube dissolved in 1 cup water
bay leaves, sage leaves, sprig of rosemary

For the Sauce:
canned tuna in oil 200 g
anchovy fillets, 2
capers, 2 tablespoons
mayonnaise, 1½ cups (see link below)
jellied stock – the liquid the meat was cooked in, 1 cup
vegetables: ½ of the cooked onion or cooked celery or carrot, some of the sage leaves – it all depends on the consistency. The sauce cannot be runny , it should be smooth but thick.

Lightly sauté the veal (in one piece) in the hot oil. Add everything else, Cover and simmer over a low heat for 1½ – 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.
Leave everything to cool until you are ready to assemble it.
And this is what I like about this dish, I often cook the veal the day before. Sometimes I have eaten the veal as a pot roast (hot) and used the left over veal to make vitello tonnato – depending on how much veal you have left, you could prepare an entrée or lunch for 2 people.

Sicilian 321 Mayonnaise.tif.t

Make the egg mayonnaise.
For this recipe see:

Maionese (mayonnaise)

Process the drained tuna with the rest of the ingredients until it is smooth, – I use a blender, mixing through the mayonnaise last of all.

To assemble the dish:
Remove the meat from the pan with the vegetables and the jellied juices. Slice the meat thinly.
Arrange one layer of the meat on a serving dish and spoon over some of the tuna sauce.  Continue to do this, building up the layers until the meat runs out (no more than 3-4 layers).
Garnish the vitello tonnato with capers, anchovies or slices of hard-boiled eggs or as the on this occasion, slices of carrot from the pot-roast.
Leave for a few hours if not overnight for the flavours to mingle before serving.
Slice it – use a sharp knife. Using a spatula, lift it onto plates like a cake.

Serve it a green salad, or one made with cooked green beans, good bread – complete!


POLLO ALLA MESSINESE (A cold chicken dish similar to Vitello Tonnato from Messina)

I bought a book called Le Ricette Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda in the 1980’s; this large and heavy book was the first of many books which I transported back from Italy over my many visits.

In the Sicilian section of this book, there is a recipe for Pollo alla Messinese, a dish which is well suited when inviting guests, particularly in the hot weather (and in Melbourne we have recently experienced some unusually hot temperatures). It can also be served as an antipasto.

Pollo alla Messinese could well be called Pollo Tonnato and is made with chicken instead of veal. The recipe suggests cooking a whole chicken in broth, but I use large chicken breasts – it is easier to cut the breasts into thin slices and then to layer them with tuna mayonnaise. I use organic chicken (estimate one chicken breast per person) and canned yellowfin tuna, dolphin-safe. I always use greater quantities of anchovies and capers in the mayonnaise than the recipe suggests (recipe below is my adaptation).


I would liked to have had presented information about the origins of Pollo alla Messinese and although there appear to be many recipes, they are usually pieces of chicken stewed or braised in tomatoes or wine and sometimes with olives .

chicken breasts, 6
bay leaves, 2
carrots, 2 halved length wise
onion, 1, cut into quarters
celery stalks, 1 halved length wise
parsley, 2 stalks and leaves
basil, 2 stalks and leaves
peppercorns, 4-5
salt to taste
stock or water to cover
mayonnaise, made with 2 egg yolks extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1-2 lemons and salt and pepper to taste
anchovy fillets, 6
tinned tuna (300 gm)
capers, 3 tablespoons

Place the whole breasts into a large pot and intersperse with bay leaves, carrots, onion, celery, parsley, basil, salt and black peppercorns. Cover the breasts with hot stock or water.
Bring slowly to boil, turn down heat, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes .
Leave the chicken in the stock to finish cooking.
Cool and leave the chicken in the stock till ready to use (I usually cook the chicken the day before).
When cold, drain well and slice the meat thinly. Keep the broth for another time and discard the vegetables.
Make a thick mayonnaise with the egg yolks, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. I use my blender.
Drain the tuna and separate it with a fork before adding it to the thick mayonnaise.
Add chopped anchovies and capers. Briefly pulse the mixture in the blender or use a fork to incorporate these ingredients into the mayonnaise – the mixture should be relatively smooth.

The recipe says to place the slices on a large platter and to spread a thin layer of sauce over each slice. I prefer to line a container with foil and beginning with a layer of mayonnaise, make 3-4 layers of chicken slices and mayonnaise.
Cover with more foil and store in the fridge till ready to present.
Turn out the chicken from the container, sprinkle with capers, cut into portions and serve.