Sole Meunière: Julia Child-inspired French Cooking for under $7.50
The film Julie and Julia begins with Julia Child tasting a dish of sole cooked in brown butter in a French (Rouen) restaurant, an event which Child would later credit for initiating her interest in French food. While Sole Meunière is elegant, it is also simple and can be made in under 30 minutes for under $7.50.
I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly...it was a morsel of perfection. Julia Child
This recipe is ideal for an intimate meal for two, as it will involve the filleting and deboning of a flatfish after cooking (which would be impractical for a large group if done by the host). If you wish to serve Sole Meunière to a larger group, it would be best to start with fillets and not with a whole fish. The removal of the bones on a whole sole is actually beautiful— the movie Julie and Julia contains an extended close-up of a water deboning and serving a sole—and can be done easily without special utensils or tools.
Five Ingredients and Seasoning
One big advantage of this dish is that it has so few ingredients - sole, butter, flour, lemon juice, parsley and salt/pepper. This will allow you to spend a bit more on the fish.
Shopping for Sole
Finding inexpensive sole can be a very tall order, even in places where good seafood is readily available. You may find that the only flatfish available in the US is often flounder disguised as sole. I recently discovered that Wild Fork Foods (who deliver almost everywhere in the US, and free of charge if you are a member) offers a true sole, from the coast off of east Africa and not the north Atlantic. (See wildforkfoods.com.) I purchased a whole Guinean sole, which weighed a little over 10 ounces, for $5.99, the everyday price. If you wished to be especially generous, you could serve a whole fish to each people at the table and still come in well under $15 for a meal for two. My Guinean sole had obviously been quick frozen soon after being caught as it was fresh, light and flaky. Don't be afraid of frozen fish—it is often far fresher than the never–frozen varieties you may find at your local grocery and is some of the highest quality fish available. You can also find frozen fish at many ethnic groceries at really reasonable prices, and fillets are available frozen at most large supermarket chains.
Use Care with Whole Fish Bones
Any whole fish contains bones. You will need to remove the top fish fillet from the backbone, and then remove the entire backbone and attached bones in order to prepare the bottom fillet for serving. This process misses bones—if you cannot eat with care or if the thought of a bone puts you off, this recipe is not for you. You may wish to buy sole fillets and prepare this dish from these fillets rather than the whole fish.
Cleaning and Dressing a Whole Sole
If you use a whole fish, you are going to need to clean and dress it. To start, remove the head and then remove the tough, dark brown skin on the top of the fish. Cut a skit crosswise near the tail and begin separating the fillet and skin. Be firm and pull. The skin is tough and will hold together, and most of the time, it will easily pull away. Remove the skin on both the gray and the white side of the fish.
Now take a sharp knife or good kitchen scissor and cut away the fins along the edges of the fish. As you will do this, you will notice an area where the fish has been gutted. Make sure there are no remaining innards in this cavity. Wash and pat dry your fish. It all looks a little messy, but the result will be a whole sole ready to be sautéed. If you have managed to clean your whole sole (or your fish supplier has done it for you), you are ready to prepare the Meunière.
Sauteing the Sole
Dredge the whole fish or fillets in 1/2 c. flour which you have generously salted and peppered. Heat 3 T butter in nonstick sauté pan on medium high heat. If you have clarified butter, use it as it will stay much clearer and tolerates higher heat without smoking. When butter is beginning to brown, put your fish in, the original “brown” side down. This will be the "presentation" side of your fish. You will brown the fish on this side until it is about 2/3 "done." This will give a nice golden crust to the fish without drying it out or breaking the fish into pieces.
During the initial cooking, make sure and leave the fish or fillet in place for five minutes, or more for a larger fish, and do not disturb it. Use a long spatula to turn fish over. Cook on the other side for a couple more minutes, until the fish is done. If you are cooking a particularly large fish (a pound a more), you might wish to place the fish in a 400 degree over for 5-10 additional minutes.
At this point, move your fish to a warm platter or plate and use another pan (or clean out the pan you are using quickly) to make brown butter sauce. Heat 4T of butter until it is foaming and beginning to turn a light brown, then quickly add the juice of a lemon and two tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley. If you love capers, you can add a tablespoon of capers now (I am not a caper fan). Pour your warm butter sauce over the fish and serve.
To serve, get a spoon and fork and remove a fillet from each side of your fish.
This will reveal a bone structure-remove the entire spine and bones and discard. Cut the whole fillet at the bottom in half lengthwise. Place 1/2 of the bottom fillet on a plate and place 1/2 the top fillet on top of it. Pour butter sauce over it. Add some green beans to the plate. Conversely, you can simply serve the whole fish—if the fish dresses to 6-8 ounces, it is a generous portion for someone who loves fish or has a big appetite.
Serve with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
Sole Meuniere (Cost $7.50, serves 2)
a whole medium-sized sole (wildforkfoods.com has a 10.5 oz whole Guinean sole for $5.99)
1/2 c. flour
Salt and pepper
7 T butter, divided (may use 3 T clarified butter) ($0.50)
2 T Fresh Italian Parsley, chopped ($0.25)
Juice of 2 lemons ($0.75)
Salt and Pepper
1 T capers (optional)
Clean your whole sole. Place your fish on a cutting board, white skin side down. Make a cut through the skin, but not the fish itself, near the tail fin. Hold the tail fin with the palm of one hand and grasp the skin with the other and gently but firmly pull the skin away from the fish. As you approach the head, use great care to loosen the skin over the fish with a finger and pull carefully off. Now turn your fish over and repeat this process for the white skin on the other side. Cut off the head and cut off the spiky fins at the top and bottom with a kitchen scissors.
2. You may also make this recipe with two 4–5-ounce sole fillets.
3. If you are cooking a whole fish in excess of one pound, preheat oven to 400 degrees. If you are cooking a smaller fish or fillets, skip this step.
4. Pat your fish dry with a paper towel. Salt and Pepper. Get butter, lemon, and chopped parsley prepared and handy - this dish goes together quickly!
5. Heat a nonstick sauté' pan (large enough to hold the whole fish, if using a whole fish) over medium-high heat. Put 3 T of unsalted butter in the pan and heat the butter until its browning. If you have clarified butter, use it, although plain unsalted butter is also fine.
6. While your butter is heating, put 1/2 c flour on a plate and season generously with salt and pepper.
7. Dredge the fish or fillets in the flour, shaking off excess.
8. Place your whole fish (or the fillets) in the pan carefully. Heat for 5 minutes or more without moving the fish. Try to see that the fish is 2/3 "done" before carefully flipping it over with a long spatula. Heat on the other side for another 3-5 minutes.
9. If cooking a whole fish in excess of a pound, you should transfer your fish to a baking sheet and place in oven. You will cook it for approximately 8-10 more minutes until its flaky and done. If using fish fillets or a smaller fish: put on a warm platter or a baking sheet in a warm oven.
10. While your fish is in the oven, or resting on a warm platter, clean out your pan or use another pan to heat 4 T of butter until foaming. Cook until the butter just begins to turn brown, but do not overcook your butter. Once the butter is light brown, remove from the heat and add the juice of a lemon and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. You can now add 1 T of capers (optional) and swirl them around the hot pan around for a bit.
11. If your fish is not already on a platter, or serving plates, put it there and pour the butter/lemon/parsley mixture over the fish. Sprinkle with more fresh parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
12. Serving a whole sole is a bit of a production. Watch the first couple minutes of Julie and Julia—it is a close up of a waiter doing this.
13. Just remove the top fillets 1/2 at a time, then pull up the spine and bones of the fish-it will come up together. Then split the bottom fillet in 2 lengthwise. Place 1/2 on a plate and put top fillet on top of it. Pour a little sauce over it and add green beans.
14. If you drink wine, serve with a glass of Chardonay or Sauvignon Blanc.