The JC100: Fillets of Sole Meunière

 

JC 100 Julie ChildHello and welcome to Week 7 of the JC100 Celebration where we are cooking Fillets of Sole Meunière (sautéed sole with lemon and parsley butter). I was a little surprised that we didn’t kick off the party with this one, but good things come to those who wait. 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…

A stick of butter melting over  very low heat

 

The JC100: Fillets of Sole Meunière
Recipe Type: Main
Author: Julia Child
Serves: 6
Excerpted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child. Copyright © 1989 by Julia Child. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
Notes

CLARIFIED BUTTER
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!

Mise en place for Sole Meuniere

Clarified butter using Julia’s simple system…

Clarified butter in a ramekin

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.

Collage of 6 photos demonstrating various decorative lemon cuts

Fillets of Sole Meunière

Sole Meuniere with lemon stars

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.

Sauteed Sole Fillets with Parsley and Lemon on a Platter

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!

Stainless Steel Range with Le Cordon Bleu lettering

 

19 Comments

  1. I am enjoying all your recipes & photos. Have you purchased a lot of new equipment to make the recipes?

    Reply
    • Glad to hear you’re enjoying the JC100 posts! One of the great things about Julia’s recipes is that, for the most part, they use just a few simple ingredients and everyday equipment. I did buy my lovely charlotte pan, but other than that, nothing new. Thanks for stopping by Mary :-)

      Reply
      • Come to think of it I also bought the little channeller, although I didn’t need to :-)

        Reply
  2. The fish looks so yummy. And you’ve taught me something – I have a 12 inch frypan and an 8 inch burner. Now I understand why stuff doesn’t brown properly. Thanks for cooking this fish, Laura.

    Reply
    • Thanks Trish! I’ve done it too, usually because I didn’t have enough 12 inch burners free. My next stove will have 3 large burners and 1 small instead of 2 and 2, or better yet, it’ll be gas. :-)

      Reply
  3. I haven’t made it yet. That dish sounds yummy.

    Reply
    • Thanks Helene. This recipe was almost as fast and simple as L’Omelette Roulee from week one. I had to keep up the pace with the photos too since the longer this dish sits the less appealing it looks. Hope you give it a go. I’d love to see how someone with your talent would style it!

      Reply
  4. The fish looks amazing. I will have to give this recipe a try soon. And love the lemon stars and basket! :)

    Reply
    • Thanks a lot! I know the lemons are very old-school, but they were still fun to make and they seemed appropriate :-)

      Reply
  5. Your sole looks exquisite. I’d eat it in a heartbeat. And GREAT photos!

    I’m of two minds about the trouble-shooting tips issue. It most often comes up for me with a simple technique that is, paradoxically, difficult to describe, the sort of stuff that can easily be taught in person but is more challenging to bring off in print. Getting risotto to the right texture, whisking mayonnaise, sautéing fish–I guess I come down on the side of knowing the possible pitfalls (and their solutions) and THEN plunging ahead, rather than plunging ahead, screwing up, and then having to figure things out myself. It took me weeks of trial and error–and a lot of doorstop loaves of bread– before I finally figured out what a properly active sourdough culture looked like. Unfortunately that last step stops too many timid cooks in their tracks. Still, you’re right, knowing about the possible things that can go wrong can frighten people too.

    Reply
    • Thanks Ken! I’ll take that as a huge compliment!

      I made this recipe about 6 months ago and it didn’t turn out nearly as well, but the problem wasn’t something Julia addressed in her troubleshooting tips. The first time I just melted the fresh butter and poured it over the fillets instead of waiting for it to become brown and nutty and fabulous. Come to think of it, I should have added that tip to my post!

      Now about that sourdough starter….I’m dying to know what those last steps are (or am I?) I went searching your blog, eagerly anticipating some glorious photos of doorstop loaves of bread, but no such luck :-)

      Reply
  6. Yummy! And such beautiful photos as always. :)

    Reply
    • Thanks Laura! I’ve finally retired the iPhone for blog photos. Now if I can just sort out the lighting :-)

      Reply
  7. Divine! Don’t you love it in the movie when she’s eating the Sole Meuniere and can’t put it into words how great it is, and Paul just says, “I know, I know!” My husband and I have those moments ALL OVER FRANCE!

    Reply
    • Lucky you! I know 17 days in Paris doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the culinary wonder that is France, and I can’t wait to go back. Lyon, Provence, Normany…where to begin?

      Julie/Julia is one of those rare movies that I actually liked more than the book.

      Cheers,
      Laura

      Reply
  8. That looks absolutely divine! And extremely simple to make.
    It’s funny that I stumbled upon your blog a couple of days after Julie/Julia – it’s one of my favorite movies! Among many things, it inspired me to start blogging about food : )

    Reply
    • Thanks Christabel! I just watched Julie/Julia again over the holidays and was struck by just how much blogs have changed since Julie Powell was cooking her way through MTAFC and blogging about it. She didn’t take pictures of her food or include media in her posts, whereas today, it would be a rare thing to see a food blog without photos.

      And speaking of photos, yours are fantastic! I really enjoyed browsing through them on The Fat Camel.

      Thanks for stopping by.
      Laura

      Reply

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