Classical vs Modern: Sole meunière

Sole meunière was the dish that made American chef Julia Child fall in love with French cuisine. She declared the light, simple dish — classically consisting of only fish, butter, flour, parsley, lemon and salt and pepper — “a morsel of perfection.”

Traditionally (and this is a tradition that goes back at least to the reign of Louis XIV), the dish is made with a whole Dover sole, dredged in flour (that’s where the “meunière,” French for “miller,” comes in), pan-fried with the butter and served with the resulting sauce, a sprinkling of parsley and lemon juice. It’s deceptively simple. But to achieve that morsel of perfection, everything has to be just right.

“When preparing the classical dish it is important to follow the directions of the recipe exactly,” says Dr. Stefan Ryll, CEC, CCE, AAC, associate professor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in Manchester, New Hampshire. “It is very imperative that you add the chopped parsley last to the finished sauce and then sprinkle with the fresh lemon juice, to create the bubbling lemon butter sauce effect.”

When recreating the classical dish, Ryll called upon his early years as Chef de Partie in the Hotel Victoria in Kandersteg, Switzerland. “At the Hotel the dish was always served tableside, presented to the guests on a nice serving platter and then filleted tableside in front of the customers,” he says. “So creating this dish two ways brought back a lot of wonderful memories, but also gave us the opportunity to make something classic modern and stylish again.”

Anthony Newman, a senior culinary arts student at SNHU, took on the challenge of putting a contemporary twist on his professor’s recipe. “The inspiration for this dish was more than just trying to modernize the classical famous French dish,” he says.

“I felt it was important to pay respect to the classical aspect via flavors and techniques, while using ingredients in-season to the region and incorporating molecular gastronomy where it made sense.”

Newman’s experience with a company which hosts dinners on farms has taught him about nature, seasonality and foraging — all which doubtlessly influenced his take on sole meunière, incorporating sous vide techniques and unconventional ingredients like wheat berries, agar-agar and microgreens.

Classical: Sole Meunière

The primary ingredients for the classical version are fresh whole sole, chef potatoes, cherry tomatoes, butter, capers, lemon and fresh parsley.

The combined aromas of the lightly browned butter with the fresh lemon juice, capers and chopped parsley signifies a unique and delicious flavor combination.

Sole Meuniere is served slightly crispy, covered with brown butter. The butter is infused with lemon, parsley and capers which add a citrusy flavor to the dish.

Dover sole is a delicate fish with a meaty and succulent flavor. The buttered parsley potatoes act as a smooth tinge to the savory flavor of the sole fillet.

The tomato Provençal adds a fresh brightness to the plate and with this bring the whole classical dish together.

Download the Classic Recipe

Helpful Hints

Before attempting to make this dish, students should know how to properly fabricate a fresh sole including how to correctly skin the fish.

Ensure that all side dishes are ready and prepared to plate before you complete the final sauce for the fish.

Add the chopped parsley last to the finished sauce and then sprinkle with the fresh lemon juice to create the bubbling lemon butter sauce effect.

Avoid crowding your sauté pan, so that the fish has room for browning and will not get steamed.

Modern: Sole Meunière

The primary ingredients are whole Dover sole, asparagus, whole butter, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and wheat berries.

The modern recipe pays respect to the classical with its flavors and techniques, while using regional, in-season ingredients and incorporating molecular gastronomy.

Vacuum-sealing the fish with herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and capers infuses the flavors right into the flesh of the fish, giving it acidity, brininess and herbaceous notes.

Wheat berries bring a salty umami flavor while giving the dish a crunch.

Olive oil powder gives the dish a subtle, fluffy olive oil flavor and the balsamic pearls help give the dish an intense form of acidity.

Microgreens and shaved asparagus brighten up and add freshness to the dish.

Download the Modern Recipe

Helpful Hints

It may take up to six hours to prep the ingredients for this modern dish.

To create the modern version, you will need a cryovac machine, a sous vide circulator and a powerful blender, like a Vitamix. If access to a heavy duty blender is not possible, straining the purée as needed would also work.

Make sure the vacuum seal bags you choose to use are not permeable.

Cook, cool, dry and fry the wheat berries fully through during each step.

Follow the directions for pearls and olive oil powder precisely. If your spheres don’t come out perfectly round the first time or if the consistency of the purée isn’t just right, keep practicing. Try watching this video below.