Why It Works
- Pork tenderloin is a great stand-in for this dish, which is traditionally made with more expensive veal.
- Cooking the tenderloin in a low oven guarantees moist, tender results. A quick sear at the end browns the outside.
I pity infomercial pitchmen. Somehow they have to get up in front of an audience and try to hard-sell some of the world's stupidest products with a straight face. I mean, just think of how little self-respect you have to have to stake your reputation on something like the Rollie Eggmaster.*
*You should definitely follow that link for a good laugh.
But the person I pity even more is the one who has to sell an idea that seems terrible, but really isn't. Those are the shoes I'm in now. See, this story is about how good pork is as a substitute for veal in the northern Italian dish vitello tonnato—veal with tuna sauce. But before I can get to that, I have to overcome the first hurdle, which is to convince you that veal with tuna sauce is, itself, a good idea.
Every time I describe the dish to someone unfamiliar with it, I have to watch confusion and revulsion flash across their face. "Veal with tuna sauce?" I see them thinking. Yeah, veal with tuna sauce. Though it's more of a loose tuna mayo, really. Wait, don't close the tab just yet!
Think of it this way: The veal is chilled and sliced oh-so-thinly. It's juicy and tender, and mild in flavor. Those shavings of meat are slathered in a rich, creamy, boldly seasoned sauce. It has the punchy flavors of lemon and capers and Dijon mustard. And it just so happens that both tuna and anchovy are blended into that delicious sauce, giving it a Mediterranean twist with a savory depth. The concept is similar to putting anchovy-based Worcestershire sauce on steak, except that the flavor here is entirely different.
Convinced? If not, well, you'll just have to try it.
The thing with vitello tonnato is that there's really no reason to limit it to veal. Sure, traditionally it's made with a lean cut of veal, like the eye round, which is either roasted or braised and then chilled and sliced. But part of what makes the veal work in this dish is its mild, unassertive flavor. It adds a meaty texture, but at the end of the day, it's mostly just a canvas for the sauce—a role other meats, like pork, can play equally well. In fact, I'm a heck of a lot more likely to grab a pork tenderloin for this dish than shell out for pricier veal. It's easy to cook, and it does an admirable job on the plate.
To prepare the dish, I use the same reverse-sear method that Kenji has popularized in other recipes on Serious Eats, roasting the pork in a low 250°F (120°C) oven until it hits a medium cook (about 140°F or 60°C on an instant-read thermometer). Then I sear it in a hot pan, just to get a little color on the outside. As soon as it's browned, I move it to the fridge to chill.
Meanwhile, I whip up the tonnato sauce with this two-minute mayo technique—just float the oil on top of the acid, egg, and flavoring components, and slowly blend them together by gradually lifting an immersion blender from the bottom to the top. If you don't have an immersion blender, use the more classic mayo method of drizzling a thin stream of oil into the other ingredients in a food processor or blender.
The only key here is that I reserve two ingredients until the bulk of the mayo is already made: the tuna itself and the olive oil. I add the tuna to the blender only after the mayo has come together, since it adds so much bulk to the sauce. And I whisk in the olive oil, since it can become bitter when blitzed with a fast-spinning blade.
Another thing worth noting is that I add more fresh lemon juice than you'd normally see in this quantity of mayo—a full quarter cup for just a cup of oil total. This does two things. First, it adds enough acid to balance out and brighten up the tuna and anchovy flavors. Second, it thins the sauce to an appropriately loose consistency. You don't want a thick, gloppy mayo here—it should almost be pourable. I reserve some of the lemon juice until the end, since putting the entire quarter cup in at the beginning can interfere with the formation of a proper emulsion.
After that, just slice the meat as thinly as possible and arrange it on a plate.
Spread the sauce all over. If you have the time to do this in advance, the dish will actually get better when refrigerated for a few hours with the sauce on the meat.
To serve it, I like to put a pretty little salad on top, made of things like parsley leaves, celery, fennel, caper berries, and thinly sliced radishes.
With any luck, one taste will have you shilling for this dish, too.
1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
1 large whole egg
1/4 cup fresh juice from 2 lemons, divided
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon drained capers
1 (5-ounce) can tuna in olive oil, drained
Flat-leaf parsley leaves, thinly sliced celery and celery leaves, thinly sliced fennel bulb and fennel fronds, thinly sliced caper berries, and/or thinly sliced radish, for garnish
Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C). Place pork on a rimmed baking sheet and season all over with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and rub all over to lightly coat. Roast pork until instant-read thermometer registers 140°F (60°C), about 30 minutes.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over high heat until lightly smoking. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer pork to refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
Meanwhile, place egg, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, mustard, capers, and anchovies in the bottom of an immersion blender cup. Pour remaining 1/2 cup vegetable oil on top and allow to settle for 15 seconds. Place head of immersion blender at bottom of cup and switch it on. As mayonnaise forms, slowly tilt and lift the head of the immersion blender until all oil is emulsified. Add tuna and remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice and blend until thoroughly incorporated into a smooth sauce.
Transfer mayonnaise to a large mixing bowl and slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil, whisking until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
Slice pork very thinly against the grain. Arrange on a large plate and spoon tuna mayonnaise all over, spreading to form an even coating. You can refrigerate the pork tonnato, covered with plastic, for up to 8 hours; it will improve in flavor as it sits.
When ready to serve, toss garnish with a small drizzle of olive oil and salt. Arrange on top and serve right away.
Rimmed baking sheet, instant-read thermometer, immersion blender
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 45g||58%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||28%|
|Total Carbohydrate 1g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||24%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|