We are happy to join PBS in celebrating Julia Child’s 100th birthday this August by preparing a Julia Child recipe in her honor, and posting a tribute to Julia. For #CookforJulia, we’re pleased to share a Sole Meunière recipe and an excerpt from our book, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars and Restaurants of Mad Men.
The beginning of Julia’s real-life career in books and television coincided with the early years in which Mad Men is set, and one sees her influence on American culinary tastes of that era reflected in many ways on Mad Men. One of our favorite Mad Men Julia recipes, after Boeuf Bourguignon (Season 5, Episode 8, “Lady Lazarus”) is Megan’s Sole Meunière (Season 5, Episode 7, “At the Cod Fish Ball”).
When Megan Draper’s parents, the Calvets, visit from Quebec she doesn’t scrimp on dinner: she prepares Dover sole. Given her French–Canadian heritage and comfort level in the kitchen, a classic Sole Meunière would have been a natural choice. Dover Sole Meunière was a classic French dish served at many of Manhattan’s fine French restaurants in the 1960s, including La Caravelle mentioned in Season 5, Episode 11 (“The Other Woman”) when Peggy, looking for a new job, meets with Don’s nemesis, Ted Chaough, of rival agency Cutler, Gleason and Chaough.
Imported from Europe, Dover sole is “considered by many food lovers to be the best-tasting fish in the world,” according to an article in the November 1964 issue of Life magazine. “If you by chance have a fish market elegant enough to carry it, filets may cost $3 or $4 a pound.” Julia Child called Dover sole “a dream fish” with a “texture firm enough to hold yet delicate to the tooth.” She later wrote that she “often wished they were farming Dover sole, as they do salmon and other popular fish.”
To make this famous dish the sole, whole or fillet, is dredged in flour, pan-fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter. Simple and elegant, it was one of Child’s personal favorites. As she wrote in her memoir, My Life in France, her first meal in Rouen was Sole Meunière: it was “perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley… I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth… The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter… It was a morsel of perfection… It was the most exciting meal of my life.”
For our tribute to Julia we’ve adapted, ever-so-slightly, Julia Child and Jacque Pepin’s recipe for Dover Sole Meunière from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (Knopf, 1999). While they call for preparing the dish with whole Dover Sole, they offer suggestions for preparing Sole Meunière with sole filets, which are more widely available and more moderately priced.
Megan’s Sole Meunière Season 5, Episode 7 (“At the Cod Fish Ball”)
- For the fish
- 1– 1 1/2 pounds filet of sole (cut in 4 – 6 ounce portions) (see note)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- About 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- For the beurre noisette
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
- 2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- To make fish: Set frying pan(s) over medium high heat. Season both sides of the fish filets with salt and pepper. Dredge fish in the flour. Press lightly to coat, and then shake off the excess. Swirl oil and 2 tablespoons butter in the pan and when foam subsides, lay as many floured fish filets as will fit in pan.
- Sauté for a minute or two on each side, until skin is crisped and the flesh is just springy rather than squashy. Turn the fish over carefully with spatula as it can break apart easily. As soon as the fish are done, remove to a warm platter.
- To make the beurre noisette: Sprinkle chopped parsley on each fish filet. Place clean medium pan over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter. When butter melts, bubbles and begins to brown, remove pan from heat and as butter darkens to hazelnut color, toss in the capers and lemon juice and swirl together. Pour sizzling butter over fish, crisping the parsley, and serve immediately.
Note: Julia Child’s recipe calls for a whole Dover sole, which can be hard to find and expensive. We’ve adapted the recipe for sole filets. Child suggests substituting gray sole, lemon sole, winter flounder and yellow tail flounder, petrale sole, rex sole or rock sole for Dover sole.
We’ll close with an excerpt from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook titled, “America’s French Chef.”
It’s no surprise we see Mad Men characters frequenting French restaurants such as Lutèce and La Grenouille and eating French foods such as vichyssoise and coquilles. It was during this same period that Julia Child was, to borrow a phrase from the ’60s, turning America on to French cuisine, starting in 1961 with publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf).
Public interest in French food was fueled in part by the Kennedys’ passion for all things French. Distinguished French chef René Verdon was hired to be the White House chef, and Mrs. Kennedy spoke French fluently. But it was Julia Child, America’s first true celebrity chef, who introduced Americans to French cooking, and there’s never been another quite like her. The gangly, irrepressible cookbook author and TV personality
became an American icon beloved for her wit, her authenticity, and, of course, her passion for French cooking.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking wasn’t the first French cookbook to appear in American bookstores in the postwar years by any means; there were many. Written by French chefs and professional food writers, the recipes were inaccessible to the average American cook because they assumed a certain amount of knowledge of French cooking. But Child learned her craft from scratch while living in Paris with her diplomat husband. Mastering the Art of French Cooking conveyed her love of the cuisine and the joy of learning from the beginning. It was a cookbook for the complete novice that broke French cooking down step by step.
Alfred Knopf, Child’s publisher, had doubts about the commercial viability of the book from the beginning, and published it only after much in-house debate. Its authors were unknown and Knopf had just published a volume by Joseph Donon, a renowned French chef. Few resources were allocated for promotion. But when New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne gave the book a glowing review, the stage was set for Child to take the country by storm. She was invited to do a cooking demonstration on NBC’s Today Show in front of four million viewers (she cooked an omelet on a hot plate). More favorable book reviews followed, including an endorsement from James Beard, perhaps America’s most famous chef at the time.
“This is a book,” wrote Child and her co-authors, “for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets,waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.” It wasn’t just the destination that was to be enjoyed, but the journey. She was converting cooks into gourmands, walking her readers through the making of boeuf bourguignon and tarte tatin, and teaching that technique was every bit as important as quality ingredients.
Child took to the airwaves in 1962 on a program called The French Chef, produced at WGBH, Boston’s public broadcasting station. The French Chef soon had a national following. With infectious joie de vivre, the imposing 6’2” Child wielded her kitchen knife with an equally sharp wit. On television, Child proved to be an outstanding teacher that viewers connected with. She wasn’t particularly telegenic or polished, and her voice was given to warbles and sudden changes in register. But her movements were both flamboyant and buoyant, and she handled miscues,both in her presentation and her cooking, with humor and aplomb. In short, she was as irrepressible as she was irresistible. She was so comfortable in her own skin that she made others comfortable trying to
do what she had done: master the art of French cooking.