Julia Child was able to remember the single most decisive moment in her life with photographic clarity. It was her first bite of her first meal in France, a fish dish called Sole Meuniere. That first forkful, she wrote, was “a morsel of perfection,” and it set her on the path to become the Julia we’d come to know and love.
Though it is indeed a classic of French cuisine, Sole Meuniere — a filet of fish dipped in flour, then sauteed in butter — isn’t terribly complicated. But it’s one of those dishes that really benefits from attention to detail. And in the interest of improving on “perfection,” I’ve added a few new details.
Let’s start with the fish. Julia was served Dover sole. Thick, firm and delicious, Dover sole is widely available in Europe, but not in the United States. In fact, much of the “sole” sold on these shores isn’t sole at all but a kind of flounder […] and much of that is endangered due to overfishing and should be avoided. So opt for Pacific flounder or Pacific sole or just reach for any firm-fleshed white fish that is not endangered. (Visit seafoodwatch.org)
Still, most white fish, even Dover sole, is a tad bland. Accordingly, Sole Meuniere is always finished with a little pick-me-up of lemon and salt. This recipe starts with acid and salt in the form of a salty buttermilk brine, which deeply pre-seasons the fish.
Typically, sole meuniere calls for all-purpose flour, but if you can find “instantized” flour, aka Wondra, grab it. The fish is crispier when it’s coated with Wondra. Two important final notes: Wait until the pan is almost smoking before adding the fish, and don’t flour the fish until the last minute, which will prevent it from becoming gummy.
Given that we’ve added capers and lemon slices to this version, it’s more properly called Sole Grenobloise than Sole Meuniere. Whatever, it’s delish. Sara Moulton, AP
Solemeuniere improving on perfection
START TO FINISH: 30 minutes plus 1 to 3 hours marinating time
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds firm white fish fillets
1 small lemon
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup instantized flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
1 tablespoon drained capers
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
HOW TO COOK IT
In a re-sealable plastic bag combine the buttermilk and salt and stir with a small whisk or fork until the salt is dissolved. Add the fish fillets, making sure they are coated with the buttermilk, seal the bag and place it in the refrigerator. Let the fish marinate for at least 1 hour and preferably 3 hours.
While the fish is marinating, cut off the top and the bottom of the lemon. Place it on the cutting board cut-side down. Starting at the top, following the curve of the lemon, cut off the rind and the pith. Working over a small bowl to catch any juice, cut between the membranes to separate the lemon into segments. Reserve both the segments and the juice.
In a large nonstick skillet heat half the oil over medum-high heat.
Remove half the fish from the buttermilk, letting the excess drip off, and dip it in the flour, coating it on all sides and shaking off the excess. Add it to the pan and cook it until golden on both sides and just cooked through, about 3 minutes total. Transfer the fish to a platter and cover it loosely with foil. Repeat the procedure with the remaining oil and fish. Discard any oil left in the pan.
Add the butter, the capers and a hefty pinch of salt to the skillet and cook over medium heat, swirling the butter, until it is golden. Add the lemon segments and cook, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the sauce over the fish, sprinkle with the parsley and eat right away.
NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING: 382 calories; 195 calories from fat; 22 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 126 mg cholesterol; 651 mg sodium; 10 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 35 g protein.
Study finds new bacterial strain can contaminate shellfish
Scientists studying oysters along the Atlantic Coast have discovered a critical clue to understanding why more seafood lovers are getting sick from eating shellfish.
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found a new strain of the bacteria Vibrio parahaemolyticus, the world’s leading culprit of contamination in shellfish that, when eaten, causes diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare cases, people have died from contracting lethal septicemia.
Cheryl Whistler and her colleagues discovered the new strain ST631 and detailed their findings in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology . Previously only one strain of the bacteria was blamed for this type of food poisoning, which Whistler said is on the rise in New England and already is responsible for an estimated 45,000 cases in the U.S. each year.
Whistler said the new strain is endemic to the region but it is unclear how it evolved to become so dangerous. It has similar virulent genes to ST36, the strain long blamed for infections and which is believed to have come from the Pacific Northwest.
“It wasn’t understood that there was a strain that lived in the Atlantic already that was causing increasing infections,” said Whistler, the director of the university’s Northeast Center for Vibrio Disease and Ecology. “We knew people were starting to get sick more frequently by unknown strains. It wasn’t clear if every person was getting sick by a different strain. Are there a hundred different strains making people sick or just a couple making people sick?”
She partnered with the federal Food and Drug Administration and public health and with shellfish management agencies in five states on the study to discover the new strain.
“We were surprised to learn that it was so widespread,” she said, adding that ST631 can thrive in a range of water temperatures from Florida to Prince Edward Island and the Gulf of Maine, suggesting a link to climate change.
The findings build on earlier studies showing the role climate change is playing in the spread of pathogens like Vibrio parahaemolyticus. An August report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warming waters are linked to waterborne food poisoning, especially from eating raw oysters.
“There is a lot of evidence that there is changing climate and an expanding pathogen population because of that,” Whistler said.
Rita Colwell at the University of Maryland did not participate in the UNH research but led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and praised Whistler’s work. She said the UNH study contributes to a growing body of evidence that global warming has “a measurable human effect.”
“They have done a very nice job doing sequencing of the DNA and getting the DNA fingerprints so to speak,” Colwell said. “The important aspect of it is they have good evidence that the strain that is circulating in the U.S. is in fact different from strains that are circulating globally … They have also been able to track infections with it.”
Public health officials are hoping the discovery of ST631 will give agencies along the Atlantic Coast and in Canada the data they need to develop tools to reduce the risk of food poisoning from the pathogen.