Carpaccio is one of the most famous of Italian antipasti but the version most people are familiar with—thin beef slices macerated in olive oil and lemon, adorned with arugula and shavings of Parmesan cheese— is actually more precisely carne cruda all’Albese, a Piedmontese dish. The true carpaccio was invented by Venetian hotelier Giuseppe Cipiani, of Harry’s Bar fame.  The story goes that Cipriani invented the dish in 1963 for a friend, Amalia Nani Mocenigo, who had been advised by her doctors to eat raw meat. (The story doesn’t explain why, but I’d be curious to know!) Rather than arugula and Parmesan cheese, he napped his dish with a sauce of mayonnaise aromatized with lemon and Worcestershire sauce and thinned out with a bit of milk. He called it “Carpaccio” after the 15th century Venetian painter, Vittore Carpaccio, whose work was the subject of an art exposition at the time, saying that the contrasting red and white of his new dish reminded him of the painter’s work.

The dish is simplicity itself, but requires best quality ingredients and a bit of elbow grease to pound out properly thin slices of beef.

Today, of course, carpaccio has become a generic term for thinly sliced raw beef or fish—or just about anything else—sauced or garnished. But it is important, I think, to enjoy the original version once in a while.


100g (3-1/2 oz.) per person of beef, preferably sirloin (see Notes), sliced as thinly as possible

For the sauce:

  • A batch of homemade mayonnaise, made with one egg yolk
  • A shot or two of Worcestershire sauce
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon
  • Salt and white pepper
  • A few spoonfuls of milk, enough to achieve a sauce-like consistency


Make the mayonnaise in the usual Italian way, then season the mayo with Worcestershire, lemon juice, salt and white pepper. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings to your taste—the sauce should be very savory. Incorporate the milk, spoonful by spoonful, until you have achieved a pourable, sauce-like consistency.

Take your beef slices and, placing them between two slices of wax paper, flatten them out with a meat pounder until they are as thin as you can manage without ripping the slices. The slice should ‘grow’ to almost double their original size.

Ready for a pounding

Ready for a pounding

Lay the slices out on plates. (Although this is an appetizer, given the size of of slices, you’ll need a dinner plate.) Then take the sauce and drizzle it all over the beef.  You should not cover the meat but rather create Jackson Pollockesque streaks of sauce across the surface of the meat, as pictured above. To get the right effect, it helps to use a squeeze bottle or an oil dispenser like this one:

Carpaccio (salsa)

Of course, if you don’t have this equipment on hand, you can simply use a spoon. Your carpaccio won’t look quite as artistic, perhaps, but it will taste just as good.

Serve immediately.


Italian recipes call consistently for contrafiletto, which translates as sirloin, but recipes in English, more often than not, call for tenderloin, the cut used for filet mignon, which will obviously be a more expensive option. In either case, you will need to get some thin slices. If you can’t get this from a butcher, then you can buy a piece of beef and slice it yourself. Most recipes recommend that you put the beef in the freezer for a few minutes to make the slicing easier, but purists would say that this alters the texture of the meat. One trick I’ve found is to use the thin beef slices they sell in Asian markets for Korean barbecue. They work like a charm, taste great and are quite reasonably priced.  (I also use them to make straccetti as well.)

If you’re not up for making your own mayo at home—or have some misgivings about eating raw eggs—then you can use a cup of store-bought mayo instead. Just make sure it’s pure mayo, with no mustard or sweeteners or other additions. In the US, a brand like Hellman’s will do. I like to ‘doctor’ store-bought mayo by whisking in a few spoonfuls of fruity olive oil; this gives the mayo a more Italian flavor. Still, it’s a compromise.

Carpaccio, Pilgrims Meet the Pope (1491-93), Accademia, Venice.

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19 Responses to “Carpaccio”

  1. 8 March 2013 at 20:22 #

    Hi Frank,

    Mystery solved! While reading “Harry’s Bar The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark” by Arrigo Cipriani (Arcade Publishing, New York, 1996) I came upon this on pp.85-86 in Chapter 7-Harry’s Gifts to the World.

    That fall one of the habitues of Harry’s Bar, the ravishing contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo – one of my father ‘s favorites – came in for lunch. She beckoned him to her table and informed him with tears in her eyes that her doctor had just warned her that she must go on a strict diet. For the next several weeks she could not eat any cooked meat. Could my father come to her rescue and dream up a dish that would be not only tolerable under these intolerable conditions, but hopefully delicious? My father smiled, acknowledging the challenge, and offered her a bellini.

    Never at a loss, he said “Give me fifteen minutes,” and with that he vanished into the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later he reappeared, followed by the maitre d’ carrying a beautiful fanlike display of paper-thin slices of raw filet mignon, onto which was laced a white sauce that consisted of mayonnaise and mustard. “And what is that?” she asked. “A beef carpaccio,” my father answered as if the dish had existed for centuries, whereas in fact he had just made it up.

    Frank, I just love things like this – research hounds unite!

    • 10 March 2013 at 00:00 #

      Me, too, Adri! What a brilliant story, thanks for sharing it. Cheers, Frank

  2. 24 February 2013 at 03:55 #

    Although never eaten it, this looks great, truly enjoyed this post!

  3. 23 February 2013 at 17:12 #

    You can see why Cipriani called it Carpaccio. Now, I have a “carpaccio” post coming up on Monday, but it is made with cucumber and truffles. Wonder what Cipriani would think?

    It is important to enjoy the original version. Especially yours.
    Lori Lynn

    • 25 February 2013 at 08:26 #

      I think Cipriani would probably be flattered and amazed at how very many variations his creation has inspired. Cucumber and truffles sound delicious and elegant…

  4. 20 February 2013 at 19:10 #

    Here’s my wish list: a visit to Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni to spend some time surrounded by Carpaccio’s paintings, then dinner at Harry’s Dolci (because I love the view from there) and I will order carpaccio. Is anybody coming with me?

  5. 20 February 2013 at 09:38 #

    Hi Frank,

    I confess. I’ve never eaten Carpaccio. I remember seeing the “grown-ups” enjoy it when I was a kid, but unfortunately that happened subsequent to my having become, much to my parents’ dismay, Adri The Picky Eater. Can’t you just imagine Sig. Cipriani’s bejeweled friend gobbling up the raw meat whilst dressed in a Dior gown with a fur stole warming her shoulders. Oh wait – I am thinking of Maria Callas!. But that is the image this conjures up for me.

    And as for the physician’s advice, I’ll go for a diagnosis of anemia. Back then raw meat (especially liver) was part of the cure.

    Your dish really looks beautiful. Compliments on some very impressively uniform pounding, and thanks for the specific info on the cuts of meat. And as for the raw eggs, if one is greatly concerned “in-shell pasteurized” eggs are available from a company called Davidson’s Safe Eggs. They are now sold in many states and are safe for consumption while raw.

    Thanks for this one. It harkens back to a very elegant age.

    • 25 February 2013 at 08:30 #

      Anemia… but of course! Makes perfect sense. But raw liver sounds yucky—I’d stick with carpaccio! Or steak tartar, which I love as well.

      And thanks for the tip on safe eggs. I didn’t know but it sounds like a godsend for folks who worry about raw eggs. That doesn’t really include me but there are many out there who are.

      Btw, are you still a picky eater…?

  6. 19 February 2013 at 01:27 #

    Un altro bellissimo post, molto interessante e utile per conoscere l’origine di questo piatto tanto famoso, amo mangiarlo anche io con questa semplice salsa che esalta il sapore della carne cruda senza coprirlo, buona settimana Frank!

  7. 18 February 2013 at 23:36 #

    I love the dish Frank, but that painting has truly captivated me.

    • 19 February 2013 at 08:17 #

      Yes, it’s a particularly beautiful example of his work, I thought.

  8. 17 February 2013 at 17:46 #

    We learned something new today! We’ve always considered true carpaccio to be the beef/arugula//lemon/parmigiano version, and thought that carpaccio with mayonnaise sauce was an Italian-Americanized version of the dish. We’ve never tried making carpaccio at home. Perhaps it is time to try.

    • 19 February 2013 at 08:16 #

      Definitely worth a try! Arguably more of a summer dish than a winter one, but if you like the taste of beef, it’s nice any time…

  9. 17 February 2013 at 16:00 #

    Just enjoyed a delightful Italian carpaccio at a nice Italian eatery this weekend. With reading it here and enjoying it over the weekend, it must be a sign for me to prepare it for an upcoming dinner party! A wonderful Italian appetizer indeed.

    • 19 February 2013 at 08:15 #

      Sounds like it’s in the cards… Thanks so much for stopping by, Roz!

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