Today we are making Sea Bream Meunière with Anglaise Potatoes. For American devotees of Julia Child, this is an important dish. She writes in her autobiographical book My Life in France that this dish re-awakened her gastronomic sense to transform the experience into “the most exciting meal of my life.” Sole Meunière became a real epiphany for Julia. As she ate the sole “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top,” she experienced “fish and a dining experience of the highest order than I’d ever had before.”
In French, a meunière is a miller’s wife, so Sea Bream Meunière literally means “sea bream cooked the way a miller’s wife would prepare it.” More prosaically, it refers to fish that has been floured and fried in butter. As I look at this recipe I try to imagine how six simple ingredients can create a life-altering moment and launch one of the most famous American cooking careers of all time.
Chef Gilles’ Sea Bream Meunière
The fish preparation is much like the others. We have two sea breams that need to be scaled, cleaned and filleted. But for meunière, the skin is left on the fillets. The cooking technique as well is very straightforward. The fish is seasoned with pepper and a lot of salt, dipped in milk, and floured only on the skin side. The fillet is then fried over medium heat in butter until the butter turns a golden brown or noisette. The sauce is composed of butter that is browned and then lemon juice is added. Finally the fish is served with the sauce and parsley sprinkled on top.
The potatoes, too, are simple; they are turned into 6cm long and 7 sides, boiled and kept warm in beurre monté, a butter emulsion.
So, how does this affect Julia Child so much that she will devote the rest of her life to bringing French cooking to America? First, I think the simplicity of the technique and the ingredients are misleading. Even though they are simple, certain combinations in food tend to be exceptional. The rich nutty flavor of the browned butter, the brightly piquant flavor of the lemon, the crisp texture of the fried fish skin under the coat of browned flour, and finally finishing with a toothsome sweetness of fresh delicious fish. This is a combination straight from the Garden of Eden (assuming there’s a flour mill). No fancy techniques or preparations are needed. Just a few fresh ingredients.
Now that I have tasted meunière prepared by both the master chef at Le Cordon Bleu and myself, I can honestly attest to the fact that this could indeed be a transformative moment. If millers’ wives were preparing these dishes for their families, it’s understandable that French cuisine would honor them by naming the technique for them. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it’s extraordinary.