In Celebration of Ferragosto: Wine Poached Chicken Tonnato

The Italians sure do know how to vacation. Ferragosto, the 15th of August, is one of Italy’s most cherished holidays.  The Italian cities are ghost towns as the Italians head for the hills, countryside and sea to escape the heat of summer.  For many, this is a religious holiday which celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary but for many this day is about relaxing and celebrating life.  Whether the Italians celebrate at the sea or in the mountains, the day is celebrated with food.  So in honor of Ferragosto, I thought an easy plate of Chicken Tonnato would be just what the Italians would be eating.  It is one of THE classic summer Italian dishes and served all over Italy for this special day, especially in the north.  This dish is typically made with chilled veal but I usually use chicken or turkey. And any extra sauce makes an excellent drizzle over some garden fresh tomatoes. So Ferragosto like the Italians. Pretend you are at the sea – whip up a batch of chicken tonnato, throw a blanket on the lawn, set out the picnic and crack open that bottle of prosecco. Enjoy!

Wine Poached Chicken Tonnato


2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 cups dry white wine

1/2 small onion, sliced

4 springs parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (about 6)

For the sauce:

1 (2 ounce) can flat anchovies packed in oil, drained

1 (12 ounce) can oil-packed tuna, drained

1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed plus additional for garnishing

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup mayonnaise (I love the new olive oil based mayos – a bit lighter)

Dash tabasco

About 4 cups of arugula, washed and dried

Freshly ground pepper

Lemon slices for garnish

Chopped parsley for garnish


1 large saucepan in which to poach the chicken, blender or food processor, large serving platter


1.  Pound the chicken breast halves.

2. In the large saucepan, combine the white wine, sliced onion, parsley, salt, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Allow it to boil gently for a few minutes.

3. Add the chicken breasts to the poaching liquid.  Cook until the broth returns to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes and turn chicken to other side.  Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover and allow the breast to stand in the poaching liquid for 10-15 minutes.  Remove chicken breasts from liquid and allow to cool.  Strain and reserve the poaching liquid.

4. In a food processor or blender, combine the anchovies, tuna, capers, vinegar, and  lemon juice. Process until smooth – about a minute or so.  Add in the mayonnaise and the splash of Tabasco sauce.   Blend until incorporated. Add in some of the poaching liquid until the desired consistency is reached – I usually add in about 2 tablespoons to thin it out a bit.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste. You can refrigerate the sauce for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.

5. To plate the dish – arrange the arugula on a serving plate.  Slice the chicken breasts on a diagonal so you have about 4 slices per breast. Arrange on the arugula. Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.  Garnish the platter with additional capers and parsley. Add lemon slices and serve!

Join the Conversation

  1. Tom Braddock says:

    Michele – So, where on Earth do you find anchovies in a tin?!!! I have the paste, which I guess is OK, but aside from Europe, where except on line do you find them? Are we so phobic about them here…how pathetic! Tom B.

    1. Ciao ciao – they are usually in the same aisle as the tunafish! Next to the canned sardines :o) I use them by the bucket – pasta with anchovies, chicken with anchovies… time you go to the market, you have to check and let me know if you can find them! I can’t imagine they are a local food item! Keep me posted!! Grazie….

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