Rumour has it this is the dish that transformed Julia Child from a person who simply loved to eat into someone who loved to cook. One could even argue that the culinary world is a better place because of Sole Meunière.
Meunière translates to miller’s wife in English and to make a dish à la meunière means to make one that is lightly floured and fried in butter. Lots and lots of butter…
|The JC100: Fillets of Sole Meunière||
- 6 skinless and boneless sole or other thin fish fillets (best choices are Dover sole, tray sole, flounder, whiting and trout), all of a size, 4 to 6 ounces each and 3/8 inch thick
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- 1/2 cup or so flour in a plate
- About 4 Tbsp clarified butter (see Notes/Variations below)
- 3 Tbs minced fresh parsley
- 4 to 6 Tbs unsalted butter
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Special Equipment Suggested: 2 heavy no-stick frying pans would be useful, to hold all the fish at once; hot plates or a hot platter; a wide plastic spatula.
- Sautéing: Pat the fish dry. Dust the fillets lightly on each side with salt and pepper. The moment before sautéing, rapidly drop each into the flour to coat both sides, and shake off the excess. Set the frying pans or pan over high heat and film with 1/16 inch of clarified butter. When the butter is very hot but not browning, rapidly lay in as many fillets as will fit easily, leaving a little space between each. Sauté a minute or two on one side, turn carefully so as not to break the fillet, and sauté a minute or two on the other side. The fish is done when just springy rather than squashy to the touch of your finger. Immediately remove from the pan to warm plates or a platter. (Or, if you are sautéing in 2 batches, keep the first warm for the few minutes necessary in a 200 F oven.)
- Sauce and serving: Sprinkle each fillet with parsley. Wipe the frying pan clean, set over high heat, and add the fresh butter; heat until bubbling and pour over the fillets – the parsley will bubble up nicely. Decorate with lemon wedges, and serve at once.
There is no substitute for the taste of butter in good cooking, especially when you are sautéing delicate foods like chicken breasts, or fillets of sole, or when you are making croutons. Plain butter will burn and speckle rapidly because of the milky residue it contains, but when you clarify the butter you rid it of that residue.
The simple system is to melt the butter and pour the clear yellow liquid off the residue.
The more thorough professional system is to cut the butter into smallish pieces for quick melting. Bring it to the slow boil in a fairly roomy saucepan, listening and watching for several minutes until its crackling and bubbling almost cease, indicating the milky liquid has evaporated and the clarification is complete. (At this point watch that the butter does not burn and darken.) Pour the clear yellow butter through a tea strainer into a preserving jar. It will turn yellowish white when cold and congealed, and will keep for months in the refrigerator or freezer.
Along with the recipe and special notes, Julia included a troubleshooting section:
TROUBLESHOOTING: The fish didn’t brown.
You may have crowded too many fillets in the pan, and there was no room for browning – the fish steamed. Or perhaps the butter was not hot enough. Or your pan was too light in weight; it did not conduct and spread the heat. Or the pan might have been too big for the heat source. A 12-inch frying pan cannot heat up all over on an 8-inch burner.
I don’t know if it has the same effect on you but a recipe that includes troubleshooting tips has a way of shaking my confidence in the kitchen. Be sure to read the recipe through a few times before you start, and organize your mise en place. From cutting board to tabletop, things move along very quickly!
Clarified butter using Julia’s simple system…
To keep things retro, I made some good, old-fashioned lemon decorations to garnish the platter.
For lemon stars:
- Cut the tip from the lemon then cut off the stem end so it stands straight up.
- Use a channeller (canneleur) to create deep grooves from stem to tip.
- Slice horizontally to create stars.
For baskets (paniers):
- Cut the stem end of the lemon so it stands straight up. Cut two parallel lines to the equator of the lemon. This will form the handle.
- Make angled cuts between the ends of the handle.
- Gently remove the two pieces.
- Cut straight across the middle to separate the flesh.
- Carefully cut between the flesh and the zest to remove the centre.
- Remove any seeds with the tip of the knife.
- If you like, fill the basket with fresh herbs.
Fillets of Sole Meunière
The first time Julia ate Sole Meunière was in 1948 in Rouen, France where the maître d’hótel at La Couronne would have most likely prepared it for her table-side.
Imagine how different culinary history might be if Julia would have stayed with her original plan and took hat-making lessons at the Embassy instead of enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu!
- The JC100: L’Omelette Roulèe
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- The JC100: Coq au Vin
- The JC100: Salade Niçoise
- The JC100: Leek and Potato Soup, Two Ways
- The JC100: Reine de Saba
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