The San Juan Daily Star
This buttery fish is weeknight easy and Julia Child fancy
By Melissa Clark
Sole meunière is a time-honored classic, the dish that made Julia Child fall in love with French cuisine, so the story goes. A combination of butter and lemon poured over sautéed fish, it’s one of those sublimely simple recipes that needs no embellishment. Yet variations abound.
Eggplant, grapes, cucumbers, even radishes and beets have elbowed their way into what is otherwise a minimalist recipe. Sensibly, the French culinary bible “Larousse Gastronomique” gives these frills a thumbs-down, declaring, “This kind of ornament is quite useless and not at all in keeping with the recipe.”
But there’s one meunière spinoff that has broken out of the pack, becoming a classic in its own right: fish almondine.
It starts with the same basic preparation as meunière. Fish fillets are dusted with flour and sautéed in butter (clarified or regular). More butter is added to the pan to brown, then a squeeze of lemon and pinch of minced parsley finish things off.
To make almondine, you toss a handful of sliced almonds into the butter to toast just before the lemon juice. The almonds lend crunch and intensify the nuttiness of the brown butter. Usually, almondine is spooned over trout, but any fish works, particularly lean flaky fillets, which benefit from the richness of the sauce.
For this recipe, I made two small but significant changes. Instead of sautéing the fillets, I roast them. This lets you skip the flour, lightening things ever so slightly. I also find roasting fish easier and more forgiving than sautéing, and nearly as fast. As a bonus, fish cooked in the oven also tends to be less, let’s call it, aquatically aromatic than fish cooked on the stove.
My second tweak is that, in addition to the lemon juice, I grate in some of the zest, which makes the flavor a few shades brighter and accentuates the citrus character. If you wanted to mix things up, you could substitute lime for the lemon, or use a Meyer lemon with its gentle perfume. I’ve even combined lemon and grapefruit, and it was lovely.
A dish this simple calls for an equally bare-bones accompaniment, maybe some roasted or boiled potatoes next to a mound of steamed broccoli or green beans, which work perfectly with the nutty sauce.
Or serve your fish almondine the way Julia Child had her meunière — by itself, in all of its buttery, pristine glory.
Roasted white fish with lemony almondine
Fish almondine, a variation on a classic meunière, combines toasted sliced almonds, brown butter and lemon juice as a sauce for sautéed, flour-dusted fillets. In this easy, weeknight-appropriate version, the fish is roasted, skipping the flour, for a more delicate result. Then, the sauce gets extra citrus intensity from a bit of grated lemon zest. Flaky white fish, or trout, is most traditional here. But the winning mix of brown butter, lemon and almonds is equally good on any kind of salmon, shrimp, green beans, asparagus – even roast chicken. And it comes together in a flash.
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
4 (6- to 8-ounce) fillets flaky white fish, such as hake, cod or flounder, or trout
Fine sea or table salt and black pepper
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 lemon, zest finely grated, then fruit halved
1 tablespoon minced chives, plus more for garnish
1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place fish on a rimmed sheet pan and season fillets lightly with salt and black pepper on both sides. Cut 1 tablespoon butter into small pieces and scatter on top of the fish. Roast for 7 to 11 minutes, or until the fish is tender and cooked through. (Thin fillets will cook more quickly than thick ones.)
2. While fish roasts, in a large skillet, melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan, until the foam subsides and the butter turns a deep nut brown, 3 to 7 minutes. (Watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn.)
3. Add almonds to the pan and turn off the heat; the nuts will immediately start to brown. Toss them in the hot butter until golden, about 2 minutes, turning the heat back on to low if the nuts need a little more color. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into the pan and stir in half of the grated lemon zest, the chives, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice and salt, if needed.
4. Pour the sauce over the fish and garnish with more chives and lemon zest. Serve warm, with the remaining lemon half on the side for squeezing. (You can cut it into wedges, if you like.)