Turkey Tonnato

James Beard

Author and Educator

This is James Beard’s take on the classic Italian dish, “vitello tonnato,” but he chose to use readily available turkey breast instead of the traditional boneless veal roast, served cold and thinly sliced and covered with sauce. “Tonnato” sauce, as its name implies, incorporates tuna and either mayonnaise or heavy cream. Made with heavy cream, it is delicious tossed with pasta and parmesan cheese.


  • One 8 to 9 pound turkey breast, with skin on and bone in
  • 5 to 6 anchovies
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups mayonnaise, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup (two 6-ounce cans) canned dark chunk tuna, finely flaked
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon capers, drained (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)


Preheat oven to 350ºF.

This is a pretty large piece of meat, so cut it in half for the turkey tonnato recipe. (If you want to leave it whole to serve a crowd, double the other ingredients.) Loosen the skin and slip 5 or 6 anchovies between the skin and flesh. Make incisions in the meat with a small knife, and stud with little slivers of garlic.

Roast the turkey breast, allowing about 20 minutes per pound, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF to 165ºF, about 2 1/2 hours. Baste during the cooking with the mixture of melted butter and white wine. When the turkey is done, let it cool at room temperature. At that point, the whole piece of breast meat can be removed from the bone.

While the turkey is roasting, make the tonnato sauce. Combine mayonnaise, tuna, garlic, parsley, capers, and lemon juice (if you’re using them.) If you have some anchovies left, you might chop them and incorporate them into your sauce as well. Taste for seasoning, though if you’ve added the anchovies, additional salt may not be needed. Stir until blended and set aside. For a smoother sauce, put all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined.

Cut the turkey meat in nice, thin slices and arrange on your serving platter. Spread the tuna mayonnaise in a fine layer over the turkey and garnish with additional chopped parsley and sliced hard-boiled eggs. Serve any leftover sauce on the side.


6 to 8 servings