Cooking for Julia: Megan’s Sole Meunière

120 JULI BADGING Cooking for Julia: Megans Sole MeunièreWe 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”)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Sole Meuniere Cooking for Julia: Megans Sole Meunière

Megan’s Sole Meunière Season 5, Episode 7 (“At the Cod Fish Ball”)

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Notes

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.

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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.

Fish Story and Minetta Tavern Zabaglione

It was a whale of a tale on last night’s Mad Men episode (“At the Cod Fish Ball”). It began with Megan’s Dover Sole and ended with poor Sally facing two very unpleasant

 Fish Story and Minetta Tavern Zabaglione

Shirley Temple with a Shirley Temple

sights, one of which was a whole cooked fish and the other…well, let’s just say Roger is up to his old tricks. “At the Cod Fish Ball” was a song made famous by Shirley Temple, so we weren’t surprised to see Sally served a cocktail by that name with her dinner.

Megan didn’t scrimp on dinner for her visiting parents and Don. Dover Sole, imported from Europe, “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.”

Given Megan’s French heritage and Julia Child’s overwhelming popularity in the mid-1960s, Sole meunière would have been a natural choice. To make this French classic the sole, whole or fillet, is dredged in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting

juliachild Fish Story and Minetta Tavern Zabaglione

Julia and a friend

brown butter. Simple and elegant it was one of Julia’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.”

 Fish Story and Minetta Tavern Zabaglione

The Hemisphere Club by day; The Tower Suite by night.

Two New York restaurants got shout-outs last night, too. When Don and Megan save the Heinz account, they’re at the Tower Suite, the evening incarnation of the Hemisphere Club, a private luncheon dining room for Time/Life executives on the 48th Floor of the Time and Life Building on Sixth Avenue. “Although New York viewed from a great height is one of the visually exciting places on earth, there are astonishingly few restaurants that take advantage of the fact,” wrote New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne shortly after the Tower Suite opened in late 1960. The Hemisphere Club was one of a series of private clubs for businessmen that opened in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Pinnacle Club and The Harbor View Club were two others. “One thing all of these clubs have in common, of course” said The New York Times on August 25, 1960, “is their altitude, a factor that seems to fulfill some inner need of the executive ego.”

The sky-high cakes (one appeared to be German Chocolate) we see on the table were part of the Tower Suite’s six-course meals served over two to three hours. The club was a creation of Restaurant Associates, the outfit behind the over-the-top Forum of the Twelve Caesars featured in Mad Men Season 4, Episode 7 (“The Suitcase”).

Further south, the cozy Minetta Tavern where Peggy expects a marriage proposal from4801251 Minetta Tavern Greenwich Village New York City Fish Story and Minetta Tavern Zabaglione Abe but gets only a consolation prize – an invitation to “live in sin,” as her mother puts it – is still going strong on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. (It was bought and revamped in 2009 by Keith McNally.) “A neat and frequently crowded restaurant…[i]t has a loyal, genteel clientele and the quality of the food, which is Italian, ranges from the ordinary to the excellent,” said The New York Times on March 20, 1964. The steak, which Abe says is supposed to be excellent, cost $4.25 back then; it’s $26.00 today with Pommes Frites.

Baked Alaska, that classic dessert that enjoyed immense popularity in the 1960s finally makes an appearance in Mad Men at the smoke-filled fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Baked Alaska is a dessert made by placing ice cream in a pie dish lined with slices of sponge cake or Christmas pudding and topped with meringue and placed in an extremely hot oven for just long enough to firm the meringue. The meringue insulates the ice cream during the short cooking time. The name ‘Baked Alaska,’ also known as a Norwegian omelette, dates to 1876 when Delmonico’s Restaurant named it such to honor the new American territory of Alaska. It didn’t look like Sally was enjoying that either but maybe Roger ruined her appetite.

Minetta Tavern Cold Zabaglione (Foamy Wine Custard)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Zabaglione Fish Story and Minetta Tavern Zabaglione

This recipe for Minetta Tavern Zabaglione comes from the Greenwich Village Cookbook (Fairchild, 1969) In Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 7 (“At the Cod Fish Ball”), when Peggy and her beau, Abe, have a date at the cozy Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village, Peggy expects a marriage proposal, but gets only a consolation prize – an invitation to “live in sin,” as her mother, Katherine, puts it. Minetta Tavern is still going strong on MacDougal Street: it was bought and revamped in 2009 by Keith McNally.

Back in 1966 when Peggy and Abe ate there, Minetta Tavern was an Italian restaurant and The perfect dessert for the couple would have been the house specialty, Zabaglione, a custard made with wine that can be served warm or cold.

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup sweet or almond cream Marsala wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Maraschino cherries

Instructions

  1. Beat egg yolks in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar gradually, beating continually Continue to beat egg-yolk sugar mixture while adding wine. Put the mixture in the top of a double boiler, and cook over boiling water, stirring constantly until thickened, about 3 or 4 minutes. Do not allow custard to boil or it will curdle. Cool completely.
  2. Whip heavy cream until stuff and fold into cool custard. Spoon into sherbet glasses and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  3. Serve chilled and decorate with maraschino cherries.
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