The legendary American chef first set foot on French soil in 1948. She was in her late thirties and could not cook, at least not yet.
For their first meal in France, Paul ordered oysters, sole meunière and a green salad. The child devoured the meal, calling it “perfection”.
“Julia describes the feeling of eating her first bite of real French food and literally falling in love with it in that moment – not realizing that it was the meal that changed her life,” he said at CNN.
What she ate that day was in strong juxtaposition to the meat and potatoes she grew up in California.
This unforgettable lunch inspired Child to dedicate his life to learning and teaching the world the wonders of French cuisine. In the middle of that first bite of sole, she had an epiphany.
“It occurred to me that this was what I had been looking for all my life. One taste of this food and I never looked back,” Child said.
“Julia said (she and Paul) were having so much fun they could barely catch their breath,” Prud’homme said. “She experienced a blossoming of the soul.”
What was life changing about this meal?
Sole meunière, a seemingly simple dish, actually takes a lot of practice and technique to prepare.
“People these days think, oh my God, about calories, but really, it’s all about flavor. It’s very light, delicate and beautiful,” Prud’homme said, calling the dish “magical “.
He suggested a green salad with a tangy vinaigrette, a buttered baguette and a glass of white wine to accompany the fish. The child, who loved chocolate, finished his meal with a piece of chocolate cake or chocolate mousse.
As a legendary TV chef, Child wanted to share his passion for cooking with the world. She would say that no one is born knowing how to cook; it’s a skill you have to learn, just like riding a bike.
“She was more than just a cook and more than just an actress,” Prud’homme said. “She was truly groundbreaking. She changed the way Americans…view food in general – eating, cooking – and brought it to the masses in a new way.”
Child’s advice to cooks was to work hard, take risks, and above all, have fun. Lessons that apply to cooking, but also to building an incredible recipe for life.
The fish should be browned on both sides. Be careful when flipping it in the pan.
It can be difficult to find a Dover sole. The fish comes only from the English Channel and other distant waters. You can find imported Dover sole at specialty fishmongers. Flatfish fillets such as flounder or “sole fillets” are suitable alternatives. Particularly good choices are gray sole, lemon sole, winter flounder, and yellowtail on the US East Coast; and petrale sole, rex sole and rock sole on the west coast.
You can also sauté small fillets (4-6 ounces each) of round fish like salmon, snapper, and bluefish. Whole small trout are another option. Saute only a minute or two on each side, until the skin is crispy and the flesh is just springy rather than mushy. Carefully flip the fillets so they don’t fall apart.
Makes 2 servings
For the fish
2 Dover soles, each about 1 pound
1⁄8 tsp salt
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1⁄3 cup or more all-purpose flour, in a large flat dish or on waxed paper, for dredging
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the brown butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 extra-large non-stick frying pan (over 12 inches in top diameter) or 2 large skillets
2 spatulas to turn the fish
1 medium saucepan for brown butter
2. Set the skillet or skillets over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. Just before cooking, holding the fish by the tail, dredge first one side, then the other, in flour. Press lightly to coat, then shake off excess. Swirl the oil and butter in the pan and, when the butter foam subsides, lay the fish in it, white skin side down. Repeat with the second fish.
3. Sauté until nicely browned on the first side, 4 to 5 minutes. Gently turn the fish over with the spatulas and sauté until crispy and golden, 4 to 5 minutes or more. To check for doneness, stick a sharp knife into the top tenderloin along the center line and gently poke to one side; the flesh should separate easily from the central bone and no pinkish color should be visible.
4. As soon as the fish is cooked, place it in a hot dish, skin side up, or in individual hot plates.
5. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley over each fish. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter in a clean medium saucepan over high heat. Watch the butter carefully as it melts, bubbles and begins to brown. Remove the pan from the heat and, as the butter takes on a nutty colour, stir in the capers and lemon juice and stir together.
6. Pour the sizzling butter over the 2 fish, crisping the parsley and serve immediately.