I’m in a movie. I’m a chef in Rouen, France. Actually, I’m in my own kitchen. Dinner is over. I’m finished cleaning up. Tonight for the dozen-th or so time, I re-created a recipe from the movie Julie and Julia. The restaurant scene when Julia Child first tastes French food on French soil. That was in Rouen. You couldn’t drag me back there. It may have been nice in the 1950s, but now, the post-war haze has lifted and it’s just tacky and rundown. Forget the cathedral and Joan of Arc. I hightailed it out of there for Giverny as soon as I could.
Back to the food. The fish fillet presented to Julia, all gloriously browned that I made for dinner tonight. All I needed: fish fillets, flour, butter, olive oil, and lemon juice.
The first thing I found is that the cook needs to find the right piece of fish. And,yes, I did skip the boning and had the fish market do it for me. My best choice was flounder. Not inexpensive. But, then, no fish is cheap these days.
Anyway, I seasoned some flour with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. ( You can’t tell the difference if you use gluten-free flour.) I dip the fish fillets into the flour, covering them evenly, then I shake off excess so the finished dish doesn’t turn out glue-y.
In a good heavy skillet, I melt unsalted butter (the cook should control the salt, not a manufacturer) and olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan well so that the fish doesn’t stick. When the butter starts to bubble, I add the fillets. If there are too many to fit the pan, I do it in batches. When the fillets start to turn golden, I take them out of the skillet, put them on a warm plate, and set it aside. Then I pour all the fat from the pan, wipe it dry, and put it back on the burner adding about half a stick of butter to the pan.
The trick here is to brown the butter without burning it. So I pay close attention; I do not leave the pan for an instant. First the butter melts, then it bubbles, then it starts to brown. When it is a nice golden brown, I squirt in some fresh lemon juice. How much? I start with about 2 tablespoons (that’s half a lemon worth), then taste it. If the butter is lightly tangy, then it is ready. I pour this over the fish, and I have a meal fit for culinary royalty.
Sometimes I sprinkle some finely chopped parsley over it.
Oh, yes, you can play with it. Use lime juice instead of lemon, canola oil instead of olive, or cilantro instead of parsley. But make sure you taste the original first. There are certain classics you don’t want to screw around with.