One of my favorite books of all time is My Life in France, the memoir written by Julia Child of her years living in Paris and in the South of France. In it, she reminisces about one of the first meals she ate in France, the simple but elegant Sole Meunière. This dish sparked a deep interest in French cuisine, and awakened her passion for food and cooking. So of course I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And, as sole ranks as a “best choice” in terms of sustainable fish according to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (for both U.S. and most worldwide fisheries), I thought it was high time I gave it a try.
On my first attempt, I went to my favorite poissonnière at my neighborhood marché, and asked for 2 pieces of sole. My friendly vendor asked if I wanted the skin removed, to which I said “yes,” and then he asked something I didn’t understand. “Coupez la tête?,” (cut the head off?) he asked again, “comme Louis XVI?”, helpfully motioning with his hand in the universal symbol for chopping off your head. “Oui, comme Louis XVI,” I laughed.
At home, I attempted the classic Sole Meunière preparation using whole fish. The advantage of using whole fish is that you can baste them in the butter sauce longer, and the flesh remains extremely tender. However, the disadvantage is that it takes some careful eating to remove the fish bones. In a fancy restaurant, you might find your sole deboned for you table-side after cooking. But at home, with no waiter to debone your final dish, starting with fillets is an easier approach.
So this Easy Sole Meunière recipe calls for fillets—let your fishmonger do the work of preparing them for you. Sole fillets can be quite tiny, so look at the size before you order—at my poissonnière, a single portion size was 3 fillets. Note though that starting with fillets makes this dish cook in just minutes, so you’ll want to have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start.
The other change I’ve made from traditional recipes is to replace clarified butter with regular butter. Clarified butter does not burn as easily as regular butter, because the milk solids have been removed. But as long as you are careful, using regular butter works just fine, as long as you don’t mind a few browned bits speckling your sauce.
How do I make Easy Sole Meunière?
First, rinse your fish fillets gently and pat dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Put 2 tablespoons of flour into a shallow dish. Press fish fillets gently into the flour on both sides to coat, brushing off any excess.
Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 T. butter over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. When butter melts, add sole fillets and cook over medium heat until bottom is golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip carefully and then add another tablespoon of butter.
Cook, basting fish with the butter, until it is just done (another minute or so). Remove the fish fillets. Add the rest of the butter, turn heat down to medium, and continue to cook the sauce until butter is lightly browned (take care not to let it burn) and smells nutty, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
See what I mean about those browned bits? If you use clarified butter, you’ll get a clear browned butter with no bits floating around. But it won’t be any more delicious. Pour lemon brown butter sauce over fish fillets to serve. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Note, if you want to make this recipe for 4 people, it is easy to double. However, you will not be able to fit all the fillets in your skillet at once, and so you will need to cook your fish in two batches. You may want to have warm plates waiting in a very low oven, where you can keep your first batch of fillets until the second batch is ready.
Ingredient Tips for Sole Meunière
This recipe is so simple, with just 6 ingredients, but because of that, quality is very important.
- Sole: The traditional preparation of Sole Meunière uses Dover sole, but other types of sole are fine alternatives. Dover sole can be quite expensive, so note that you can also try any other delicate white-fleshed fish.
- Butter: The reason this dish may taste so delicious in France is partly due to the quality of its butter. If you can find a rich, locally made butter, it will really shine in this meal. I prefer to use unsalted butter, and adjust the salt levels in the sauce after cooking, but salted butter would also work.
- Lemon Juice: Fresh-squeezed lemon juice is key to this recipe. One lemon will usually yield about two tablespoons of juice.
- Parsley: Fresh Italian parsley is preferred, though curly parsley is a fine substitute. You could also use thyme as a substitute (though then it wouldn’t be a true meunière), but in that case I would add the thyme leaves in after you remove the fish fillets rather than just as a garnish at the end.
Can I prepare this dish in advance?
Sole Meunière is best prepared à la minute (just at the time you want to eat). However, you can and should prepare all your ingredients in advance. Pour out your flour, chop your parsley, squeeze your lemon juice, measure out your butter. You should have it all ready to go because this dish cooks extremely quickly.
What should I serve with Sole Meunière?
Sole Meunière is a delicate dish, so pairing it with a simple side will make its elegance shine. A classic pairing is steamed potatoes, but it is also delicious with rice or a simple buttered pasta. Steamed broccoli or green beans are a perfect green accompaniment.
What is Meunière sauce?
Meunière translates to “miller’s wife,” which perhaps refers to the technique of dredging the fish in flour before cooking it. The sauce itself is simply browned butter, lemon juice, and parsley. It is used most often to prepare sole and trout, and sometimes soft-shell crabs.
What wine goes with Sole Meunière?
Honestly, you can always drink whatever wine you enjoy with your meal. But a very nice pairing for this dish would be a lightly oaked Chardonnay or crisp Chablis. A Sauvignon Blanc would also be a fine choice, though choose one that is not overly tart. Sole is quite a delicate fish, so don’t choose a wine that will overwhelm your tastebuds.
Other France-Inspired Recipes
If you enjoyed this recipe, you may want to check out some of my other France-inspired recipes like these:
- Coq Au Vin Blanc
- Salade de Tomates
- Vin Chaud
- Baked Brie with Fig Jam
- Puff Pastry Cinnamon Rolls
- Green Beans Almondine
- 4-6 fillets of sole (about 8 ounces/225 grams total)
- 2 T. (20g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 T. (57g) unsalted butter, divided
- 1 T. lemon juice
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T. chopped parsley, to serve
- Rinse your fish fillets gently and pat dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Put 2 tablespoons of flour into a shallow dish. Press fish fillets gently into the flour on both sides to coat, brushing off any excess.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 T. butter over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet.
- When butter melts, add sole fillets and cook until bottom is golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes.
- Flip carefully and then add another tablespoon of butter.
- Cook, basting fish with the butter, until it is just done (another minute or so).
- Remove the fish fillets.
- Add the rest of the butter and continue to cook the sauce until butter is lightly browned (take care not to let it burn) and smells nutty, about 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in lemon juice.
- Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Pour over fish fillets to serve. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Note: you can easily double this recipe for 4 people, but note that you will need to cook your fillets in two batches. You may want to have warm plates waiting in a low oven to keep the first batch warm while the second is cooking. You won’t need to double the sauce, but you might add just a little more butter.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1055 Total Fat: 15g Saturated Fat: 3g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 9g Cholesterol: 213mg Sodium: 1681mg Carbohydrates: 144g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 5g Sugar: 1g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 78g