Tout Sole Meunière
“Ummmmm est-ce que vous parlez anglais?”
For a long time that was my opening line whenever I was in a situation where I had to speak French. I know that sounds ridiculous and obnoxious - why live in a country and not even try to speak the language? It’s not that I wasn’t trying in my daily life - well actually yes I wasn’t trying. I wasn’t trying because I didn’t need to. I was living in an English language bubble at home, work and with my friends. The rare occasions when I had to absolutely speak French I would freeze and panic. English was my default and if you didn’t speak English then we were not going to engage in any kind of conversation.
So naturally, now that I am living here alone one of the biggest hurdles, on a practical level, has been the language. With my personal Emmanuel Macron no longer by my side, initially, I couldn’t seem to wrap my head, and my mouth, around this beautiful language. I sounded like I had a hot potato in my mouth.
I decided to make sole meunière in this episode because similar to the French language, sole meunière intimidated me. Being such a classic French dish it seemed unapproachable. Complex yet subtle, like the language, and alluringly challenging, like the people, I just couldn’t face it. It was too much for me and I always told myself that I would make it “another time”. I didn’t ever find that perfect “another time”. Instead, what I did was just make the damn thing.
I told myself that even if I failed the first time by overcooking the fish or burning the sauce, it didn’t mean I couldn’t try again and improve. Mistakes are not the end. Screwing up the first time doesn’t mean it’s over. Having to try again doesn’t mean that I failed as a person.
It sounds a bit dramatic because it’s just fish with some butter sauce, right? Yes and no. For me successfully making this dish the first time meant that petit à petit I was pushing my fears to the side. It meant that I was tired of the negative self talk and doubts, now I’m ready to lancer quelque chose et aller jusqu'au bout.
I also decided to aller jusqu'au bout with speaking French. I put my pride in my back pocket and just started to talk, throwing myself into French only situations and rocking with it. I still make lots of mistakes, but that’s okay. I am far from fluent, but I am also no longer freezing in a panic when I have to speak French and I‘ve stopped telling people that I eat mango flavored condoms for breakfast, so I would say that I’m on the bonne voie!
1 fillet of skinless sole cut into two pieces
¼ cup (or 130 grams) of cubed chilled butter
Ground black pepper
1 cup of flour
½ cup of Basmati rice
2 cups of water
1 peeled clove of garlic
1 ½ tablespoons (up to 2) of thick cream
I think traditional French food can be quite intimidating and I was a bit scared about making this because I was sure it was going to be a failure, but I surprised myself. Not only was it delightful, it was quite easy as well. I mean can you go wrong when the main ingredient is butter? It is not 100% traditional because that’s just not me. You’ll see what I mean as you continue reading.
I started with the rice first because that would take the longest to make. My mom always washed the rice before cooking it, so I do it now too. I think it’s supposed to take off some of the starch, or whatever. I am not sure about all of that; I just know that I loved my mom’s rice so I do everything she did.
I used perfumed Basmati rice and it was a perfect match. This rice has a slight coconut flavor so it gave the overall dish a nice island vibe. Very fitting for this Jamaican girl living in Paris. :)
After washing and draining my ½ cup of rice, I put it in a small saucepan with two cups of water (I do not use rice cookers, I actually ruin rice when I cook with rice cookers I just do it old school). I sprinkled about one teaspoon of salt and added a half a teaspoon of butter to the pot. I know, I know. Butter in rice? What? But it actually makes it quite fluffy and even more flavorful.
After giving the water, rice, butter and salt a good mix I cracked up the heat to bring everything to a boil. Once I had a nice rolling boil going I covered the pot and turned it down to a simmer. This rice took about 11 minutes to cook, but you should periodically check the rice to make sure it’s not getting too dry before the rice is actually finished cooking. I like my rice quite soft, but if you like a bit more crunch then ignore what I’m about to say in the next sentence and skip to the next paragraph. If you like your rice soft like me and you notice the water is all dried out but the grains are still crunchy just add a little bit of water. The addition of the water should help to continue to steam the rice.
I added a little more than half of the chilled cubed butter to a frying pan on medium-high heat and let that get nice and hot. While that was heating, I added 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 1/2 tablespoons of ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon of white pepper to the 1 cup of flour.
When all of that was mixed I dipped the sole into the flour mixture, making sure each side was equally covered. I shook off the excess then gently placed it in the frying pan. I knew the butter was ready because it started to slightly brown.
I put the fish in and let it do it’s thing, resist the temptation to move it around or touch it for at least 5 minutes. After about 5 minutes the fish should be curling or already curled at that point you can try to move it, if it moves easily then go ahead and flip it, if not then let it sit for a few more minutes.
After flipping the fish I added a bit more butter and the peeled garlic glove. I moved the garlic around the pan (mostly where the butter was) so that the garlic flavors would infuse with the butter. Once the garlic had been in the pan for a few minutes I started basting the fish with the garlic butter mixture. Garlic is not a traditional ingredient in sole meunière, but I thought it would add nice flavor AND I WAS RIGHT.
I flipped the fish maybe once or twice more and basted more, because I am a bit extra, but mostly importantly because it needed to be soaked in the butter garlic flavor.
Now it’s sauce time.
I removed the fish and garlic clove from the pan, but left all of the nice brown bits and the butter (that’s the flavor). DO NOT WASH THE PAN. Add the remaining butter and thick cream to the pan with a little bit of water then stir, stir and stir.
Depending on how thick you like your sauce you can add more water if you’d like.
Bring the sauce to a slight simmer, then give it one last stir and you’re ready to plate.
Rice, fish, spoon over some of that sauce sprinkle fresh parsley on top and you’re ready to eat!
I made this meal during my attempt at a dry January (which did not last very long, by the way), so I didn’t have any wine. But you can’t go wrong with a crisp white wine like a Chablis or something a bit more delicate, but just as delicious, like a Pouilly Fumé (a personal favorite)
The Tout Sole Meunière Playlist.
This is really just a random list of all the French songs that I love. The range is wide so the playlist goes from 1970s crooner Joe Dassin to rap group NTM. Don't expect consistency, but you should at some point rock side to side.