Tonno Tonnato: Hardcore, Salty Fish-on-Fish Action!

Tonno Tonnato (Tuna with Tuna Sauce)

With the summer over (sad face) but the warm days of Indian Summer lingering on (happy face), this dish will be relavant for a few more weeks (for those who are super traditional about eating warm weather dishes only in warm weather). For me, this will be an excellent dish to eat after months of freezing winter weather and extra fat stored from weeks of heavy stews. It’s a mix of light and heavy, but, for some reason, it feels lighter than heavier. Maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself?

Roughly translating to tuna’d tuna, tonno tonnato is grilled tuna with a cold tuna sauce, and probably doesn’t sound all that appealing. Even the photographs can not capture how delicious this dish really is (beige on beige – gorgeous!). That could be because it’s fish, but, if you think about the concept behind it, i.e. making a sauce out of the same thing as the principal element of the dish, you are reminded just how many times you’ve had a meat sauce. Taking it to it’s logical conclusion, how many times have you had leftover bolognese sauce cold the day after? It’s pretty good, right? In fact, most long-cooked sauces taste even better the day after.

Tonno Tonnato is take on the traditional Piedmontese dish, Vitello Tonnato, a cold, sliced veal dish topped with the cold tuna sauce (one we will make someday for this here blog). Vitello Tonnato is sure to make many American’s scratch their head in wonderment (or maybe even make their stomach churn at the mere idea of the dish). We are one food culture that doesn’t often mix fish with meat like many other countries do (with the exception of some Creole/Cajun and Lowcountry dishes). But, if you’ve ever given it a try, you’d realize just how well they can go together.

I think the tonnato sauce alone could be used in a variety of ways if you don’t feel like topping some tuna with it. It would make a great spread on some grilled bread with a bit of white beans and herbs mixed together as a bruchetta topping. Throw it in a bowl with some veggies as a dip? Toss it with some cold macaroni for a twist on tuna pasta salad? How about as a nice little condiment for your pannini (depending on the stuffing, of course) or maybe as a dipping sauce for some crispy fried shrimp, fried zucchini or fried oysters (or anything fried for that matter)?

Tonno Tonnato (Tuna with Tuna Sauce)

It is important you try to have an open mind about tonnato. So, if you think of the tonnato (the sauce portion of the dish) as a fish version of a cold meat sauce, it might sound more appetizing. On the other hand, it might not. So feel free to skip this one if it grosses you out, but do us a favor and first ask yourself if you would turn your nose up at a nice medium-rare steak topped with bolognese sauce.

**A little on a personal note:  You may notice we’ve been kind of MIA for the past 4 or 5 months – we really haven’t been posting as much. Well, we have a little bambino coming our way within the month and, although we love this blog, we also love life and, as you know, sometimes blogging can feel like it’s getting in the way of living life.  Although we have still been cooking, we’ve also been trying to prepare for the kid, moved, Jonny started a new, more stressful job, we set up a nursery, learned about breast pumps, binky’s, boppy’s, barfy’s and any other stupid thing babies r us tries to make you think you need (I swear all I had growing up was a cardboard box for a toy and an umbrella stroller!).  Jonny and I have also been enjoying our time together before this child arrives and turns our relaxing twosome into, well, who knows, probably a crazy, loud, but fun 3-some (ok that sounds weird).  So you can see why blogging took a back seat to more important things.  We are excited but, naturally, nervous.  We swear we will still be cooking up a storm as soon as we learn how to parent a newborn so, please stick with us. We may be silent for a few months, but we won’t be gone.  And I promise I will not turn this blog into a way to showcase my kid and his latest round of “perfect poos or perfect coos” and I promise we will not feature recipes for homemade baby food!  This blog will remain Jonny and my baby – our thing.  We’ve still gotta have our little things that are just for us, right? That’s not being too selfish? So, again, we don’t often get too personal around We Are Never Full, but we felt like all 4 of you who actually read our blog deserved to know why we haven’t really been keeping up the way we used to recently.  Hopefully this new little life will inspire amazing dishes in the near future!  Stay tuned!


  • 1 can tonno in oil (go on, just get the good, imported stuff for this one!)
  • 1 cup good quality mayonnaise (this is a short cut – traditionally the sauce should be made eggs, oil and vinegar, so go ahead and do it that way if you prefer)
  • 3 to 5 anchovy filets (to your taste – I used 4)
  • 1-2 tablespoons capers
  • small splash of caper brine
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a bit of water (1 Tbsp) to thin out the sauce (if necessary)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 4 thinly sliced (1/2 inch or thicker if you prefer) pieces of fresh tuna steak
  • handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  1. In a blender, food processor (or, if you are a purist, mortar and pestle), pulse all the ingredients except the water until well combined.  Add a small bit of water to thin it out if necessary (you should have enough liquid from the lemon and brine, but if it seems too salty for you, feel free to add a small bit of water).  The sauce should not be thin – it should be thick enough to stick to the spoon but not as thick as a spoonful of  mayo.
  2. Heat up a pan.  Rub a bit of olive oil on both sides of your tuna steaks and season with salt and pepper.  When pan is hot, sear the tuna on each side for a minute to two minutes per side (I like it pink inside), depending on thickness.
  3. Plate by topping your piece of tuna with a few tablespoons of the sauce coating the top.  Add some parsley, a few capers or caperberries for presentation and you’re done! Enjoy with some greens or any other sides you like.  See, easy, right?

21 thoughts on “Tonno Tonnato: Hardcore, Salty Fish-on-Fish Action!

  1. Congrats on your very exciting news!!

    I agree tonnato sauce does sound weird, and every time I have it, I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ve also seen this served with pork.

    Good luck, and I’ll look forward to hearing about your new adventures in a few months 🙂

  2. Congratulations on the new addition! How exciting for you both.

    Vitello tonnato is quite popular here in Argentina, where it’s usually referred to as vitel toné. It’s actually quite tasty, although I admit that the veal/tuna combo does catch you off guard at first!

    Best of luck to you! We’ll be waiting patiently for future posts. 🙂

  3. Now, this dish makes sense to me. Vitello tonnato has always perplexed me and the first time I had it, it had been prepared by a terrible cook (yes they do exist in Italy) and I have been a little turned off the dish ever since. But this I can get behind! Congratulations on the new addition to the family! What an exciting time this is going to be!

  4. I am so excited for you!!! You did a good job keeping the secret all these months and, even now, slipping it in at the end like an afterthought, which I know it’s not! Jonny must at least post a line when the little one arrives to let us know. We care…and we’ll wait for you to blog again when you’re ready.

    Oh, and the tonnato…I’ve never done it but you’ve inspired me to try it.

    All GOOD luck!

  5. Well, this is one way to get your DHA.

    (Haw haw at everyone else, I already knew they were expecting!)

    You’ll get it back, you’ll see. I’m still too busy to update as regularly as I want to, but at least I feel like I got my groove back. The other kind of groove takes a lot longer to get back (once the hormone rollercoaster slows down), but I guess that’s nature’s way of making sure you don’t end up with Irish twins.

  6. Looks like you have more than 4 readers! Even if we don’t repsond each time. You inspire me to try new things & yes, to cook more.
    Congrats! Loved the rant about Babies R Us.
    I expect that baby to be cooking & blogging before he can walk!

  7. Wow, amazing news! I had to chuckle about the promise not to turn the blog into a showcase of poos and coos… there’s a certain food blog I used to read occasionally but hardly ever do anymore because the constant links to baby photos and anecdotes about what the perfect angel did that day was getting really out of control. (Speaking of which, have you seen the hilarious STFU Parents? Ironically it was a friend with a toddler who turned me on to it…) 😉

  8. Good luck with the bambino! And get some rest … you’ll definitely need it soon 😉

    I haven’t bought tuna steaks in ages … this sounds good. I may even try it tomorrow in fact.

  9. No worries about you being MIA. From the posts you have been giving us, it’s quite obvious you have a few other things on your mind.

    This month huh? Seems like only yesterday (or just a few posts ago, which I guess translates into a few months) that you made your subtle announcement. Good luck.

    So is tuna-on-tuna a pregnancy craving or something? 🙂

    I’ll never tell anyone it’s the wrong season to eat something. I make ice cream in January and fried chicken on 90 degree days!

  10. THANKS, guys! I’m feeling the love. Thanks, Noelle, for the link… LOVING this blog. Hilarious I feel like I could’ve written it myself. I’m totally passing this one off to my friends (and, in turn, hope to passive aggressively let them know to STFU, Parents!).

    Peter- kind words of encouragement that only you could give us. i can’t wait to see you again so you can pass on more great nuggets of parenting wisdom (i’m serious here!!).

    rachel – tuna on tuna… with all the hype about mercury and shit, i shouldn’t even be thinking about eating it. but, as has been w/ this whole pregnancy, i’ve been doing pretty much everything in moderation. so, yes, the tuna on tuna was a bit of a craving.

    heather – i love you girl… and too i could curl up w/ a big glass of vodka on the couch w/ you and high five you for writing what you did… i totally GET what you’re saying. but now that is DEFINITELY t.m.i.

    everyone else, thanks for the kind comments. really, thank you. now just send vibes my way for an easy birth (and one where my husband will be able to bring a giant steak and fries into the hospital afterwards for me to chow down on).

  11. I am glad I stopped by today! What great news!

    I was saving this recipe for one more hot summer night, which I guess we are not going to get (maybe an Indian summer?).

    Best regards,

  12. I make a salmon tonnato. Like the tuna idea, your dish sounds delicious.
    Best wishes on new parenthood. Please post a picture of the baby and his/her name when the time comes.

  13. many, many congrats! hope the delivery is uneventful. as for this dish- i love the whole concept. che buono. x shayma
    ps adore the beige on beige photography- came out beautiful.

Like this post? Hate this post? Let us know!