We'd been talking about it long enough. Ever since reading the charming account of Julia Child's first meal in France, Sole a la Meuniere, and then seeing it so darlingly reinacted by Meryl Streep, My Baby and I have wished for this dish, too. For some erroneous reason, I'd assumed that its preparation would be intimidating and difficult, to be mastered only by a toque blanched French chef, tableside. How very, very silly of me! This turned out to be one of the most delicious home meals I can ever remember. That it was quick and easy just adds to its delight.
My Baby took some decisive action the other day. He purchased a whole, beautiful Idaho trout and issued the proclamation that it would become trout a la meuniere. After flipping through a few cookbooks for some guidance, we learned that it is quite simple and upon eating it learned that the rewards are quite generous. Here we will walk you through the steps, which are not so much a recipe as a process.
First, start with impeccable ingredients. Sole or trout fillets, the freshest you can find. As for the butter, we used some from our local creamery, but a European butter would not be lost in this application. A plateful of all-purpose flour, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. (A la Meuneire translates to "of the miller's wife", cleverly suggesting that she might dust everything she cooks in flour.) Fresh flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped. And, a lemon. That's it. Each ingredient shines though clearly in its simplicity in this dish, including the salt. Use the best you can find.
Of all dishes, this is one to call upon all your mis en place skills:
- Fillet your fish, if purchased whole. Pat it quite dry. Salt and pepper fillets lightly.
- Quarter a stick of butter lengthwise into batons. (You may or may not use all the butter, depending on the size of your skillet, the number of fillets you'll be cooking, and how much butter sauce you desire to pour over the cooked fillets, but have it ready to make those decisions by instinct as you go along.)
- Spread flour on a large dinner plate and lightly season with salt and pepper. You'll know how much
- Chop your parsley, and have it handy.
- Wedge your lemon.
- Warmed serving plates are nice here.
- Have the other components of your meal nearly done before beginning to cook the trout. This is also a time when two chefs in the kitchen are better than one... One can focus on the fish, the other on the accompaniments. (My Baby took the fish duty, and it was fascinating to watch.)
Drop in one or two of the butter batons, just enough to cover the bottom of your skillet about 1/8" deep. As it is melting but not yet beginning to brown, dash your fillets over the flour on the plate and shake off any excess.
Once the butter is bubbling nicely, place the fillets in the pan, skin-side down. Saute one or two minutes. Turn with a wide spatula and saute for another one or two minutes, until the fish feels springy when lightly pressed. Top and bottom should be lightly browned and ever so slightly crisp. Remove to your warm plates, and sprinkle the fillets generously with parsley.
Wipe out your skillet with paper towels and place it over high heat. Add as much of the remaining butter as you are in the mood for (I say go for it!), and once it is bubbling hot, pour it over the fish. The parsley will sizzle and become very fragrant. Serve with dispatch, with lemon wedges nuzzled in to squeeze atop. (This is not inconsequential... the acid is necessary to balance the richness of this lovely dish.)
Since our fish came a little farther than 100 miles, and I hate to admit that we broke down and purchased out-of-season far-far-away asparagus- (look how chopstick thin it was!!! A mere dash into a hot toaster oven with a whisper of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt was all that was needed for perfect, al dente spears. Do you blame us for lack of restraint?)- to assuage our larger than necessary carbon footprint guilt we definitely choose a wine from the within 100-mile radius criteria.
Pyranees Vineyard and Cellars in the Umpqua Valley AVA is a new up-and-comer. Their 2006 Chardonnay pointed nicely to the trout without vying for center stage. A marigold nose, crisp apple, light vanilla and butter on the palate, and a lilting acidity come together harmoniously but quietly in this nice bottle. We look forward to more food-pairing experimentation with Pyranees wines.
Many contented sighs were uttered during this shared dinner hour. When years of talking and wishing actualize into something as appealing as this Trout Meuniere, it makes me ask, "What took us so long?" and, "What else shall we try next?"