For fans of Julia Child, sole meunière will forever be linked to the groundbreaking French chef—because when she first tasted it in 1948, she wasn’t a chef at all. She was the wife of a diplomat who had just moved to France at the age of 36. The couple sat down for their first French meal at a Rouen restaurant called La Couronne—and the simple fish dish changed Julia’s life.
In her memoir My Life in France, Julia waxes poetic about the experience:
“It arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top…. I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.”
She declares the meal the most exciting of her life—and she would think back on it for decades, practically still able to taste it. The perfect execution of delicate sole fried in butter began Julia’s love affair with French cooking—and the world’s love affair with Julia.
The term meunière refers to both the sauce and the method of preparation. It translates to “miller’s wife,” so the dish supposedly mimics a rustic, peasant style of cooking. But don’t confuse simple with boring. Julia certainly never did.
Cooking the fish in a combination of butter and cooking oil prevents the butter from burning. More advanced cooks can channel Julia and use 4 Tbsp of clarified butter, omitting the oil altogether—but we suggest oil for ease of preparation.
For the fish:
4 Dover sole fillets
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 Tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
For the sauce:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Rinse fish under cold water and pat dry. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.
- Lightly dredge fish in flour, shaking off excess.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high until it shimmers. Add the butter and swirl skillet to coat—it should be hot, but don’t allow it to brown.
- Reduce heat slightly and fry fish fillets for 2 minutes per side or until golden, careful not to overcrowd pan and working in batches if necessary. As Julia said, the finished fish should feel “springy” to the touch, rather than “squashy.”
- Divide fish between two plates and tent with foil to keep warm. Pour off drippings from skillet and wipe clean.
- Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add butter and cook until bubbling and just golden. Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice.
- Pour sauce over fish fillets and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with lemon slices.
Visit Rouen—and perhaps even enjoy a meal at La Couronne, which is still in operation—when you join Grand Circle Cruise Line for The Seine: Paris to Normandy.