The Code of the Woosters, Ch. 4, Part III
- Soup (type unspecified) and asparagus
- Sole Meunière
Sole meunière was a bit intimidating to tackle. And to be honest, I couldn’t find fresh sole anywhere, so ended up making flounder menière. It was a delight, though, and far easier than I thought it would be, so I’ll definitely give it a go with actual sole as soon as I find some.
Besides being a specialty of Aunt Dahlia’s chef Anatole, sole meunière was the dish that changed Julia Child’s life and showed her that cooking could be more than an unimaginative hunk of meat with a side of overcooked vegetables. So you can see why I was intimidated.
"Meunière" just means in the style of the miller (or the miller’s wife). Miller-style sole is a little less formidable sounding. It’s basically a flat fish dredged in flour and lightly fried in clarified butter, with lemon, salt, pepper, parsley, and some capers if you like. It’s a dish you could pretty much make up on your own with no help from either Anatole or Julia.
With simple cooking, though, I like to make sure I have the best ingredients. Once I got the best fish (flounder, alas, as I said) I could muster, some fresh parsley, a lemon, my special Indian pepper, some Maldon salt, all that was left was the butter. Since the whole thing seemed almost ridiculously easy, I took it up a notch by making my own butter.
If you own a food processor, making butter is pretty ridiculously easy as well. Forget the shaking for hours or, if you’re really old school, churning, and just dump the best cream you can get a hold of (bonus points if it’s not homogenized) in the food processor. In a few minutes, voilà, butter. Well, it’s a tiny bit more work that that: you need to fully rinse off all the buttermilk (which you should keep and use for biscuits or pancakes or something!), and then knead the remainder out. Go ahead and Google it — other people have posted more detailed instructions with pictures — I’ll wait.
The better a job you do at removing the buttermilk, the longer your butter will keep. If you want, you can knead a little salt in (which will expel even more buttermilk). Be careful with the salt though — we’re going to clarify this butter, which will concentrate the salt, so you might want to skip it for the butter you use here. You won’t need all the butter that results from a pint of cream, though, so you can salt part of it if you like.
Butter cooked at high temperatures tends to smoke, and clarifying it (clarified butter is also known as drawn butter) removes the solids, which makes it less smokey. Basically you just heat the butter until it melts and starts simmering. Foam will rise to the top which you can strain off, and then strain the remaining melted butter through a cheesecloth. Well, I actually used a couple of coffee filters, because that’s what I had handy.
For the fish, you just make a shallow dish of flour, salt, and pepper, dredge the fish in that, and then fry it lightly in the clarified butter. Top with lemon and parsley. You can also make a nice little bit of sauce with the butter remaining in the pan and the lemon. Enjoy. Easy peasy. I did my usual cooking technique of reading a half-dozen or so recipes (including Julia Child’s) and then winging it. Don’t forget to plate it nicely with a wedge of lemon, a sprinkling of lemon, and a grind of pepper — Anatole would never forgive you for anything less.
The only real change I made to the overall gist of the thing was to drastically reduce the amount of butter. I made up for this by using a nonstick pan and keeping an eagle eye on the fish to make sure it wasn’t getting to dry, then adding a bit more butter whenever it was. It worked fine, though your milage may vary. If you, unlike me, are able to eat copious amounts of fat, go crazy with the butter!