Sublime and Seductive Sole Meunière
“I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth… The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter… It was a morsel of perfection… It was the most exciting meal of my life.”Julia Child
Some literary allusions to sole meunière – and then the recipe.
This year it is the 125th anniversary of Three Men in a Boat, a very funny story by Jerome K Jerome about a boating holiday on the Thames with an additional character called Montmorency who seems to be the only one with any really sensible view of life. I lent the book to a friend of mine when I was at school (some time ago) and found that not only did she agree, but that somehow she had managed to read the entire book without realising that Montmorency was a dog. By the end of the book they are dreaming of whitebait and sole having lived for the entire trip on “cold meat, cake, and bread and jam”.
This happy messing-about-on-the-river trio aren’t the only literary figures to yearn after sole…. In Goldfinger we read that James Bond “walked into the station restaurant and ate one of his favourite meals- two oeufs cocotte à la crème, a large sole meunière, and an adequate camembert. He drank a well-iced pint of rosé d’Anjou and drank a Henessy’s Three Star with his coffee.”
Well, I’m not sure about the Henessy’s, but other than that Jerome and Fleming both had a point, there’s much to be said for sole (if Dover sole is too expensive try lemon sole, which strictly speaking isn’t in fact sole, go here for more; or halibut or trout which will both take a bit longer to cook).
James Bond, of course, was partial to anything involving a woman and in the case of his favourite dish (sic) it was the miller’s wife (“meunière”) – the flour used to caress the skin of the delicate fish and which protects it from drying out – that elicited his enthusiasm.
Recipe for sublime and seductive sole meunière
- 2 fillets of …rich as Croesus? Dover sole….. watching the dosh? Lemon sole. You want fillets which are about 150g each. If you have a fishmonger get him to skin it, and then look into the whites of his eyes and ask him to make sure all the bones are out. If you don’t have a fishmonger then it is DIY.
- 2 tbsp seasoned (smoked salt and dry fried Sichuan flower pepper if you have it) flour
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- About a fifth of a block of butter (50g/2 oz)
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
- Handful of parsley
- 1 tbsp capers (NB NOT the type in brine – if this really is your only choice, soak them in milk (or diluted yoghurt) for half an hour before using, and then rinse. If you use the type preserved in salt, rinse thoroughly before using.)
- Coat the fillets with the seasoned flour.
- Heat the oil to just smoking.
- Fry the fish, non-ex-skin side down first, reducing the heat after a minute and then turn (it should be golden).
- Fry another couple of minutes.
- Remove the fish together with any surplus oil (there shouldn’t be much) and keep warm on the plates you are going to serve it on.
- Add the butter to the pan knob by knob, don’t let it burn but it should start to begin to smell a bit nutty and go a bit darker. TAKE OFF THE HEAT IMMEDIATELY BEFORE IT BURNS.
- Add everything else.
- Pour over fish.