Best French Method for Cooking Fish

How do the French cook fish? What do they do that makes it taste so good? Here are two French recipes for cooking fish. One is a classic French fish recipe (“meunière”), and the other is a variation on that theme. Enjoy!

Here's a 20-minute French recipe for sauteed fish. Trout is pictured, but just about any fish will do.

Here’s my 20-minute French recipe for sauteed fish. Trout is pictured, but just about any fish will do.

Did you see the movie Julie and Julia? Do you remember the beautiful moment where Julia Child, just off the boat, rhapsodized about the unforgettable fish dish she had for her first lunch—ever—in France?

That dish was sole meunière, and it’s easier to make than you might think. It’s the classic French method for cooking fish.

Meunière is French for “the miller’s wife.” As culinary legend has it, she was the lady with access to plenty of fish from the stream that powered her husband’s mill, and of course, she had plenty of flower for dredging it in, too.

The classic preparation requires just a few easy steps:
1. Dip the fish fillets in milk, then dredge them in flour. Shake off excess.
2. Heat about 1/4 cup vegetable oil in a pan; saute the fish until golden brown o both sides, turning once. Remove from pan; sprinkle with fresh parsley and/or chives.
3. Wipe out the pan; add 1/4 cup butter to the pan and cook until nut-brown and frothy. Pour this butter over the fish and sprinkle a little lemon juice over it all. Serve immediately.

That’s it! But if you need more detailed instructions, see the recipe, below.  Once you’ve masted that, take it a step further, and make my variation, with browned garlic, parsley, pistachios, and celery.

The classic French recipe for fish: Meuniere. So easy, and yet, the best way to cook fish ever.

The classic French recipe for fish: Meuniere. So easy, and yet, the best way to cook fish ever. Sole is pictured, but just about any fish will do. Photo credit.

 

Best French Method for Cooking Fish
Author: 
Recipe type: 20-Minute French Fish
Cuisine: French
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
A classic fish meunière, a French method for cooking fish that works for just about any fish you can find.
Ingredients
  • 4 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless white fish fillets, such as haddock, halibut, grouper, sole, flounder, or cod (1/2 inch thick)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup 2 percent or whole milk
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley, chives, or chervil, or a combination
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Season both sides of each fish fillet with salt and pepper. Pour the milk into one shallow bowl and place the flour in another. Dip a fillet in the milk, letting the excess drip off. Dredge the fillet in the flour to lightly coat, shaking off the excess. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
  2. Using a skillet that’s large enough to accommodate the fillets in one layer, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add fillets and cook, turning once, until fish is golden- brown on both sides and flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes (reduce the heat to medium if fish browns too quickly). Transfer fish to four serving plates.
  3. Drain off any fat from the skillet and—taking care not to burn your fingers—wipe out the pan with paper towels. Add the butter and melt it over medium heat until nut-brown and frothy. Remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Scatter the herbs over the fish fillets, sprinkle with lemon juice, and pour the browned butter on top. Serve immediately.

OK! Now that you’ve mastered the classic French way to cook fish, why not try one of my favorite variations on this theme? It only takes a handful more ingredients and about two minutes more of your time…but results in something extra.

I make this beautiful recipe with trout (it’s how I first enjoyed it somewhere in a little inn somewhere in the French Pyrénées), but honestly, cross my heart, you can make it with just about any good fish fillet. Simply adjust cooking time—a minute or two longer— for thicker pieces.

Trout Meunière with Celery, Pistachios, and Garlic Cloves
Makes 2 servings

Ingredients
2 8-ounce boned, pan-dressed trout (heads removed; tails removed if desired)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup 2% or whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup celery rib, very thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut into thin lengthwise slices
1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons pistachio kernels, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1. Rinse trout and pat dry. Spread each trout open into fillets; season both sides with salt and pepper. Pour the milk into one shallow bowl and place the flour in another. Dip a fillet in the milk, letting the excess drip off. Dredge the fillet in the flour to lightly coat, shaking off the excess. Repeat with the remaining fillet.

2. In a large skillet (at least 12 inches in diameter), heat the vegetable oil. Add the two trout, skin side up, and cook over medium to medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until fish is golden and flakes easily with a fork, turning trout once. Transfer to a warm platter; keep warm.

2. Carefully wipe out pan with paper towels. Add 2 tablespoons butter and heat over medium heat. Add celery and garlic; sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until celery is tender and garlic is golden-brown. Add parsley and cook briefly. Add pistachios and, if you like, red pepper flakes. To serve, spoon this mixture over trout.

 

PS: What? You’re cooking fish without a bonafide fish spatula? It’s an essential tool in my kitchen, and not just for fish. Flip burgers, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches; lift cookies off the sheet—seriously, once you have this great little utensil, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

And if you buy one through one of my Amazon affiliate links, you’ll help support this site without adding to your costs whatsoever. Thanks for your consideration!
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