Theme for the evening: fabulous friends, a film about Julia, and food from Julia. Recently I hosted 13 fabulous women at a Julia Child-themed dinner party. Everyone invited was asked to bring a dish from a Julia Child cookbook that had meaning for them and share why they had chosen it.
We started the evening by watching the movie Julie & Julia. Sipping champagne and enjoying Katherine’s gougere, we watched as Paul and Julia Child’s automobile was unloaded from the ship upon their arrival at Le Havre, France on November 3, 1948.
Next we moved to the dining room. Videos of Julia’s early cooking shows played in the background as we enjoyed Peg’s Potage Veloute Aux Champignons, or Cream of Mushroom Soup. Already the meal was taking me back to the 60s and 70s. Up next was my course: Sole Meuniere. This was the dish Julia ordered for lunch on her first day, her first meal, in France. In her book, My Life in France, she describes her first bite as “a morsel of perfection.” Imagine: it was just after the second World War, food rationing, and Victory gardens. We watched her enjoy her first French meal in the movie and relished her enthusiastic reaction. My guests were patient as I cooked the sole, two servings at a time in order to keep it pleasantly browned on the outside but not overcooked on the inside.
Other dishes served included an Eggplant and Tomato Gratin, Green Beans and Almonds, a lovely, simple Green Salad (a dish Julia also enjoyed in her first French meal), Casserole Roasted Chicken, Chocolate Mousse, and a Lemon Bavarian. Wow, what a meal! The recipe for the chicken was from Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When Kate suggested it I thought it sounded so simple, but it was magnificently simple and the most challenging of all cooking. Weeks later I can still taste it and crave another bite.
We discovered that many of the recipes seemed dated. Joan reported that her eggplant dish didn’t call for any garlic. Dede said the chocolate mousse recipe didn’t include vanilla. Everyone said they took some liberty with their interpretations.
Susan brought some of her lovely local, farmstead cheeses. The wines for the evening were predominately Burgundies, both white and red. Some guests had brought quotes from Julia to read and share. Katherine spoke of meeting Julia and told tales of Julia’s niece. I shared my meeting Julia and my friendship with her friend, Rosemary. We all talked about Julia’s influence on American cooking and women. She really brought us all together for a wonderful evening of food, conversation, and friendship.
8 ounces Dover sole fillets*
3 tablespoons Wondra or unbleached flour**
salt and pepper, white preferred***
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons butter
lemon wedges for garnish
Add a good shake of salt and a lighter shake of pepper to the flour. Stir it well to combine. Place it on a plate. Dry the fish fillets and dredge them in the flour mixture, coating them entirely, then shake them to remove any excess flour. You want just a light coating. Place the floured fillets on another plate and reserve.
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil until it barely smokes. Add half of the fish. You want a lot of room around the fish in the pan so that it browns quickly. If you crowd the fish in the pan it will steam and not brown. Your goal is to cook the fish about 3/4 of the way through. The heat of the cooked fish will continue the cooking process after you remove it from the pan. You want your fish out of the pan before it exudes its juices, which give the fish maximum flavor and texture. Turn the fish after approximately 3 minutes. Cook for another 3 minutes on the other side, remove to a plate, and place it in the warmed oven. Cook the second batch of fish in the same manner. Add the cooked fish to the plate in the oven. If there is any oil remaining in your pan, wipe the pan with a paper towel to remove the oil. Add your butter to the pan. Allow it to foam and then turn a nice, light brown color. It will begin to develop a nutty aroma. Add the fresh lemon juice, parsley, and then season the mixture with salt and pepper. Mix the sauce well to distribute the seasonings.
Place the fish on a serving platter or individual plates, scrape the sauce over the fish, and serve garnished with lemon wedges.
*Dover Sole is the preferred fish for this recipe. Petrale or Lemon sole may be substituted. Flounder will work as well. I suggest West Coast sources for this fish. The East Coast fisheries have been overfished and are not recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program and the National Marine Fisheries.
**Wondra Flour is a great choice for coating foods to be fried. Advertised as a “quick mixing flour” that produces a smooth gravy, it is a blend of wheat and barley flours that yields a crisp crust on fried foods. It works very well as a coating for fish that will be pan-fried.
***White pepper is the peeled seed of the black peppercorn. The purpose of using white pepper is that it won’t show in lighter colored cooking preparations as does black pepper, such as in the flour coating on the fish in this recipe that is pan-fried. However, the taste is much the same. If you have white pepper use it for this recipe. But if you don’t, and you want a pepper element in your final dish, you can use black pepper.