The Italian Tuna Sauce That Will Add An Umami Kick To Your Meat Dishes

Fish and meat in the same dish might seem weird, but don't knock it until you try it. A northern Italian starter known as Vitello tonnato has been pairing the two unlikely ingredients since the 18th century, notes Gambero Rosso. Despite the odd coupling, the dish works, but why? Well, the answer lies in the high concentration of umami deliciousness.

Typically served cold, Vitello tonnato hails from the Piedmont region and consists of boiling veal until tender, thinly slicing it, and topping it with the tonnato sauce. A velvety and decadent condiment, La Cucina Italiana explains that the sauce is made by blending together tuna, capers, anchovies, lemon juice, egg yolks, and a splash of olive oil. The result is a slightly viscous paste ready to top any dish imaginable, meat or otherwise. Unlike other dressings that just add flavor, this Italian tuna sauce adds a fifth taste — umami.

A velvety, yet zingy sauce that adds complexity

Aside from being lusciously creamy, tonnato boasts a bit of briny tartness that helps cut through the richness of its accompanying ingredients. Thanks to this unexpectedly tangy kick from the lemons, capers, and anchovies, Serious Eats explains that the tuna sauce pairs amazingly with hearty meat dishes, as it adds another dimension of flavor — umami.

Umami, also dubbed the fifth taste, is extremely important in cuisine. The Flavour Journal reports that the presence of umami (usually found in soy sauce, meat stocks, and funky cheeses) can increase saliva, influencing our perception of taste and desire to eat. Likewise, the intense savoriness felt in a dish like Vitello tonnato is the work of glutamates reacting with ribonucleotides to positively intensify flavor, reports The Guardian

While you could stick to tradition and top meat with this tuna sauce, Bon Appétit suggests slathering it on sandwiches, drizzling it on roasted vegetables, and utilizing the dipping sauce for crudité. It can even make a unique addition in potato or pasta salads!