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Vitel toné (also spelled vitel thoné or vitel tonné), a classic element of holiday spreads at Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Argentina, fulfills the Argentines’ craving for meat with a dish that manages to be flavorful, yet on the lighter side, when the mercury rises during the southern hemisphere summer.
A massive wave of Italian immigration at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century made a profound impact on Argentina’s culture, language and, of course, cuisine. Immigrants from “The Boot” brought this dish, known as vitello tonnato in Italian, with them from their homeland. The dish originated in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of northern Italy in the 19th century. Today, vitel toné enjoys widespread acceptance throughout Argentina.
Usually served as a cold appetizer, vitel toné consists of slices of veal in a tuna sauce. It’s generally garnished with capers, but some like to dress up the dish further with chopped hardboiled eggs, finely chopped pickles, and/or olives. While veal and tuna may seem like an odd pairing, I assure you that the creamy and slightly tangy sauce really does complement the meat, and the assertive flavors of tuna and anchovy are mellowed by the cream and the mayonnaise. Give vitel toné a try, and savor some of Argentina’s Italian heritage in every bite.
Serves 8-10 as appetizer
1 (2- to 3 lb.-) veal eye of round roast [known as peceto in Argentina]
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped
3 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 scallion (green part only)
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 (5 oz.) can of tuna, packed in water
6 anchovy fillets
3 Tbsp. white vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 cup cream
reserved poaching liquid, as necessary
1 Tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. capers
For poaching the meat:
Trim fat and silver skin from meat. In a deep, heavy pot, add onion, carrot, celery, scallion, parsley, garlic, bay leaf, black pepper and salt along with enough water to cover the meat. Cover pot, bring water to a boil, then add meat. Return to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat, set aside, and allow meat to completely cool in the poaching liquid. Strain and reserve the poaching liquid. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until well chilled (overnight is best).
For the tuna sauce:
Drain tuna and put into a food processor with anchovies and vinegar. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Add the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Process until it becomes a creamy, beige-colored sauce. Add the cream, and pulse lightly to incorporate it into the sauce. Add a few tablespoons of poaching liquid from meat if you need to thin the sauce a bit.
Carefully cut the meat into uniformly thin slices. Spread some of the tuna sauce on the bottom of a serving platter, and then layer the meat, slightly overlapping the slices. Cover the meat with sauce, and continue layering meat slices and sauce. Repeat until all the meat is used. Leave enough sauce to cover top layer. Garnish with capers and chopped parsley. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 2 hours to allow flavors to develop. Remove from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes prior to serving to take a bit of the chill off the dish.
Other recipes by Katie:
Panqueques de Dulce de Leche (Dulce de Leche Crepes)
Torre de Panqueques
Tarta de Pollo y Choclo (Chicken and Corn Pie)
Coquitos (Coconut Macaroons)
Fainá (Chickpea Flatbread)
Humita en Olla (Creamy Stewed Corn)
Bifes a la Criolla
Matambre a la Pizza
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