Poisson Meunière (Fish With Lemon and Brown Butter)

FoodSwoon » Poisson Meunière

If you haven’t read Julia Child’s “My Life in Paris” perhaps you’re familiar with the scene in Julie & Julia in which she enjoys her first meal in France. Julia and her husband, Paul, are having lunch in Rouen, France, where he explains that “in France, good cooking [is] regarded as a combination of national sport and high art.” They order, among other delights, oysters on the half shell and — at the recommendation of the waiter — sole meunière, which renders Julia nearly speechless. In her autobiography, she writes:

“It arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top … I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.”

She later declares it the most exciting meal of her life, a culinary revelation. Here’s a 40-second clip from Julie & Julia of the famous moment:

Over the summer I was leafing through a new cookbook and stumbled upon a recipe for fish, one that mentioned in the introduction that it was THE FISH — poisson meunière — that  Julia enjoyed during that fateful lunch in her new country. Of course I felt compelled to make it immediately — that very evening — and I commented afterward that it rivaled any seafood I’d had in a restaurant, high-end or otherwise. I repeated that the second time I made it. And the third.

FoodSwoon » Poisson Meunière

FoodSwoon » Poisson Meunière

The ingredients are humble. The preparation, nothing elaborate.  The fish is dipped in milk and lightly rolled in flour before pan-frying. Once brown and crispy, it’s topped with lemon juice, a scattering of fresh parsley and a generous drizzling of brown butter. If forced to pick, I’d credit the brown butter for taking the fish to another level, but the lemon juice and parsley balance the sweetness of the butter — and the light dusting of flour makes all the difference in achieving a crispy exterior. All parts work together for a truly sublime dish.

FoodSwoon » Poisson Meunière

Yield: serves two

Poisson Meunière (Fish With Lemon and Brown Butter)

Fresh chives are another wonderful garnish for this dish.


2 6- to 8-ounce skinless fish fillets (sole, cod, halibut, flounder, grouper, etc.)
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Optional: lemon wedges


Add the butter to a heavy saucepan and cook on medium heat until the butter melts, the foam starts to subside, brown flecks appear and the butter just starts to brown. Immediately remove from heat and pour into a heat-safe bowl. It will continue to darken once you remove from heat. It should smelly nutty. If it smells burned, you will have to start over (sorry!). Set butter aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and pepper. In another small bowl, add the milk. Heat a heavy skillet on high heat (no oil) for four minutes. Meanwhile, dip the fish fillets into the milk and then into the flour, tapping off any excess. Add the oil to the skillet, tilting the skillet to coat the bottom. Place the fish in the skillet — carefully, as the oil may splatter. Cook for six minutes undisturbed on high heat. With a spatula, turn the fish over and, if the pan looks dry, add another tablespoon of oil. Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, give or take a minute depending on the thickness of your fillet.

Drizzle the lemon juice on top of the fish followed by a scattering of parsley and a generous drizzling of brown butter.  Enjoy immediately, serving with more lemon wedges at the table if desired.

Print Recipe

Adapted from The Way To Cook by Julia Child and The Bonne Femme by Wini Moranville

11 Responses to “Poisson Meunière (Fish With Lemon and Brown Butter)”

  1. Happy Valley Chow — September 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    What a terrific recipe, looks amazing!

    Happy Blogging!
    Happy Valley Chow

  2. Rose — February 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Amazing and easy to make. Best way to make fish!!!

  3. Alison — February 9, 2014 at 1:29 am

    I made this last week when my cousin came to visit– it was fantastic! In fact, it would’ve been lovely even without the browned butter. The flour mixture makes a delightful crust. I served it with potatoes and a big green salad; the meal was a hit!

    • Ashley replied: — February 27th, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

      Thanks, Alison. I also love this dish with a green salad.

  4. Anne — March 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    I have been reading Julia’s memoir for a while now–savoring every word–and was looking for a nice recipe to cook for a friend this weekend. This is it! I will let you know how it turns out 🙂 So glad I found this blog–I love it!

    • Ashley replied: — March 28th, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

      Anne, it’s one of my favorite memoirs — I need to read it again. You’ll really love and appreciate this dish!

  5. Margaret — March 31, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Delighted to find this recipe and this blog. I have The Way to Cook by Julia and this recipe is not there! ?? Watched Julie and Julia for the second time the other night and now I want to make this!

    I am wondering if it would turn out as well if one substituted the oil for butter?


    • Ashley replied: — April 1st, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

      The fish cooks in oil… do you mean substitute oil for the brown butter (that goes on top of the fish)? The brown butter is its own thing and adds a distinct flavor. The fish would still be tasty cooked as suggested and finished with parsley and lemon, but the brown butter really does take it over the top. If you experiment, let me know!

  6. Margaret — April 1, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Oh no! I wouldn’t think of substituting the browned butter with oil. I was referring to frying the fish…could I use butter rather than oil as you suggest? LOVE your blog!

    • Ashley replied: — April 1st, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

      Margaret, yes, you could use butter to cook the fish (and I have before when I’ve been out of oil), but the butter burns if cooked on high per the oil-cooking instructions. I’m not super fussy about this, but others are. You may want to reduce the heat to medium vs. medium high when you’re frying the fish. Hope that helps!

  7. Leona — March 25, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    I followed the recipe but my cod was blackened by the time 6 mins was up. I frayed it in cast iron pan on high heat as suggested. Help!

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