There’s a very famous Take-Out store in the Hamptons called “Loaves and Fishes” that turns out superb food for the rich. I say this because, first, the place is in a village out here with the highest median house price in the entire country: Sagaponack NY comes in at a staggering $8,500,000. And second, I once saw a woman there pay $108.00 for 8 servings of Pollo Tonnato. Lord knows what she would have paid for the far more expensive Vitello Tonnato, the Piedmontese dish of cold, sliced veal in a creamy, mayonnaise-y sauce flavored with tuna. As odd as the combination may be, it’s a wonderful combination of flavors which brings a salty tang to the otherwise bland taste of the veal. Invented in the late 19th century, Tonnato sauce was created at a time when Piedmonte was closely aligned to Liguria. The tuna was fished for in Liguria, the lemons and capers were grown there too. Pollo Tonnato is its very worthy and far less expensive cousin. It uses boneless chicken breasts covered with the Tonnato sauce, a rich and flavorful concoction of capers, lemon, anchovies and tuna, preferably the Italian variety in glass jars. The Italian tuna will not only up the price of the dish a bit, it will improve its flavor immeasurably.
So what about this classic Italian preparation is remotely Irish? Well, when casting about for its recipe, I came upon the version that Darina Allen included in her “Ballymaloe Cookery Course” (Kyle Cathie Limited 2009). This immense collection of 1100 recipes is peppered with instructions of every possible kind. It truly is a Cookery Course in one book. So why this particular recipe from this particular writer? Mostly because it was so much simpler to prepare than virtually any other, particularly the classic Italian takes on it from the late lamented Marcella Hazan. By grilling the chicken instead of poaching it,
the prep work is cut back to salt and peppering the breasts. The sauce is one that goes into the food processor to emerge fully made. And I confess that I did not make my own Mayonnaise. Instead, I used Hellman’s Mayonaisse with Olive Oil with no apparent ill effects. The haricots verts bring color and texture to the salad. All that’s left to do is to assemble the salad on plates and serve. The only expenditure of time here is the chilling time for both chicken and tonnato sauce. Here is the recipe which you can serve all summer at lunch or dinner.
Recipe for Pollo Tonnato Salad adapted from Darina Allen
Takes about 30 minutes to make but requires chilling time of about 2 hours in the refrigerator. Serves 8. If halved, make the entire recipe for the Tonnato sauce. It will liven up a tuna salad, or a chicken salad sandwich.
For the Pan-Grilled Chicken Breasts:
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
8 oz. of Haricots Verts
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, for brushing
For the Tonnato Sauce:
1 rounded tablespoon salted capers
2 salted anchovies
4 rounded tablespoons of Hellman’s Mayonnaise
3 oz canned tuna in oil plus 2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
For the Garnish:
Sprigs of flat-leaf Parsley* or Dill
* Not shown in photograph.
First, make the Tonnato sauce:
Wash the capers and anchovies and pat dry. Put all the ingredients for th sauce in a food processor with a little pepper and whizz until smooth. Put it into a bowl, cover and set aside in the refrigerator.
Next, pan-grill the chicken breasts:
Generously season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then brush with oil. Heat a grill pan to medium high then cook the chicken for 8 to 10 minutes on each side or until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cook in the refrigerator.
Finally cook the green beans and assemble the salad:
Trim the beans. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add salt and cook the beans for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender but still al dente. Drain, refresh under cold water and spread on a plate to dry. Put a few salad greens on each place and scatter some beans over the top. Slice each chicken breast into 5 or 6 pieces, place on top of the salad greens and cover the chicken with the sauce. Garnish with capers, anchovies and a few olives and sprigs of parsley.