Seafood

Sole Meunière – when Julia Child first came to France

 

I have always been intrigued with the idea of cooking Sole Meunière, the classic French dish first tasted by Julia Child on her arrival in France in 1948. However, I always thought the dish might be a bit too simple (a piece of fish pan-fried in butter!) and also thought it would be difficult to photograph to look good on the plate.

However, after re-reading my copy of Julia’s book, My Life in France, I realized that this recipe was much too important to pass by. After all, this was the dish that re-awakened her gastronomic senses to transform the experience into “the most exciting meal of my life.” Prior to this meal eaten at Rouen’s La Couronne restaurant, Julia had experienced only mundane fish dishes of “broiled mackerel for Friday dinners and codfish balls with egg sauce.”

However, Sole Meunière became a real epiphany for Julia. As she ate the sole “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top,” she experienced “fish and a dining experience of the highest order than I’d ever had before.” After reading this, I realized that I now had to take the plunge and try this recipe.

In French, a meunière is a miller’s wife, so Sole Meunière literally means sole cooked the way a miller’s wife would prepare it. More prosaically, it refers to fish that has been floured and fried in butter. If you can’t find any sole, you can use other thin fillets such as flounder, John Dory, trout or whiting- I used John Dory fillets.

There are a few tips and variations for this recipe. Julia Child recommends using unsalted clarified butter for frying the fish. This is butter where the milk solids have been removed, thus preventing the butter from burning. You could also use a combination of cooking oil and butter (1:3 ratio) to achieve the same result, although I prefer the clarified butter option.

In order to test whether the fish is cooked, Julia recommends pressing your finger tip against the fish; it should feel ‘springy rather than squashy.’ If it has turned flaky, it is over cooked. She also recommends seasoning the fish with ground white pepper, otherwise it might look like the fish has ‘fly specks.’ You can use black pepper if you wish, but just season the ‘non-presentation side’ to avoid viewing the fly specks.

After you have readied all of your ingredients, this dish is very quick to prepare. The decorative lemon pieces are optional, but I recommend including them; they really dress up the plate. And as for my previous comment about Sole Meunière being too simple a dish to try- this is not true. It turns out that the simpler dishes are often the most delicious!

In order to make this dish, I recommend starting by preparing the decorative lemon slices, using a ‘channeller’ to make grooves in the lemons. First you carve grooves in the lemon going vertically, spacing the grooves about 1/4 inches apart. Then slice the lemon in half horizontally to make ‘star shapes’- then slice these in half.

After preparing the decorative garnish, the rest of the recipe goes quickly. Please note that the recipe says to fry the fish in 3-4 tbsp clarified butter. The amount you use depends on the size of your frying pan and the amount of fish you cook; obviously you would use a smaller amount of butter if using a smaller fry pan, etc. Bon appétit!

 

Sole Meunière
Serves 4
This classic French dish transformed Julia Child from a person who loved to eat into a woman who loved to cook!
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
6 min
Total Time
26 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
6 min
Total Time
26 min
Ingredients
  1. 4 – 6 Sole fillets or other thin fish fillets without skin
  2. Salt and white pepper for seasoning
  3. 1 cup or so white flour
  4. 3 – 4 tbsp clarified butter for cooking the fish
  5. 3 tbsp minced fresh parsley
  6. 4 – 6 tbsp additional butter for the sauce
  7. Juice from ½ lemon for the sauce
  8. 2 lemons to decorate the plate
Instructions
  1. Prepare the decorative lemon slices as illustrated in the photos above.
  2. Season both sides of the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Place the flour on a plate and lightly coat each side of the fish with the flour; shake off any excess.
  3. Over high heat, place enough of the clarified butter in a fry pan to form a thin film about 1/16 inch thick. Heat the butter until it becomes very hot, but not turning brown. Reduce the heat slightly and then fry each fish fillet in the butter for about 2 minutes each side; cook only as many fish at one time that will easily fit into the pan. The fish should feel ‘springy’ to the touch when finished rather than ‘squashy.’ Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm while the remaining fish are cooking.
For the sauce
  1. After all fish have been cooked, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. Over high heat, add the 4- 6 tbsp unsalted butter (not clarified) and heat until it bubbles and starts to turn a nut brown color. Be careful the butter does not burn and turn black. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the juice from ½ lemon. Pour the sauce over the fish fillets, sprinkle with the diced parsley and then arrange the lemon slices decoratively around the plate.
Notes
  1. The amount of butter used in the recipe should be adjusted to both the size of your fry pan and also the amount of fish you are using. If you don't want to use clarified butter, then use a combination of 1 tbsp cooking oil (vegetable or olive oil) to 3 tbsp unsalted butter.
Adapted from 'The Way to Cook' by Julia Child
Adapted from 'The Way to Cook' by Julia Child
G'day Soufflé http://www.gdaysouffle.com/

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Joanne T Ferguson
    September 14, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    A classic indeed Fran and am sure you did Julia’s dish proud! Well done and photographed!

  • Reply
    Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop
    September 15, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Julia Child has always been one of my heros. I remember watching her cooking on PBS way before cooking shows were a trend. This fish looks absolutely wonderful!
    Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop recently posted…Baked Ham and Cheese SandwichesMy Profile

  • Reply
    Summer
    September 15, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    Looks so nice! I like how the orange is sliced ♥

    summerdaisycottage.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Juliana
    September 16, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Oh Fran…this is such a classic…lemony and buttery…yum! I love how you cut the lemons…so beautiful!
    Hope you are having a great week 🙂

  • Reply
    GiGi Eats
    September 16, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Sole reminds me of England when I ate so much SOLE … Yet never ever got sick of it! YUM! 🙂
    GiGi Eats recently posted…He’s ALL That, Shrimp Scampi With Freddie Prinze Jr.My Profile

  • Reply
    John/Kitchen Riffs
    September 17, 2016 at 12:47 am

    What a great dish! I haven’t made this in ages. Definitely not one you want to overcook, although it’s tricky because you want it nicely browned, too. And brown stuff is hard to photograph! So I always just shoot the garnish. 🙂 You did great with your photos, BTW. Fun read — thanks.
    John/Kitchen Riffs recently posted…Pasta with Zucchini and MushroomsMy Profile

  • Reply
    Kim | Low Carb Maven
    September 18, 2016 at 1:47 am

    I love sole meuniere and my kids do too! What I know of Julia I know from the movie Julie & Julia. I think I’ll buy the book you mention in your post. I think she was a fascinating person and love how she paved the way for women chefs and made French cooking accessible to home cooks. Thank you for sharing this.
    Kim | Low Carb Maven recently posted…Easy Enchilada Sauce (low carb, gluten-free)My Profile

  • Reply
    mae
    September 19, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Julia Child’s recipes are so detailed and wonderful to follow — I love how you have made this one your own. Somewhere I read that her story of the first meal she ate when arriving in France wasn’t always consistent — she sometimes mentioned other first dishes, not always sole. I do love the book “My Life in France” so I’ll go along with you and view this as the “real” one.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Raymund
    September 20, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    If this changed Julia Child I think I will definitely have to try this one out as soon as possible
    Raymund recently posted…Breakfast at Fact-Tree (North Shore City, New Zealand)My Profile

  • Reply
    Amira
    September 25, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I would prefer mine in clarified butter but I like them flaky i.e overcooked :).
    A beautiful presentation to such a simple wonderful dish.
    Amira recently posted…Slow Cooker Stuffed OnionsMy Profile

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