almond flounder meunière
My favorite color is and always will be brown. Brown. Brown is neither dull nor dark. It’s neither one-dimensional nor ordinary. In grade school, I used to fake it. While the girls declared their love for purple and donned their pinkest duds for the first day, I would say I liked blue or something, my neutral and monochromatic ensembles pointing to another affinity.
Brown is the richest of all the colors. It’s the color of the tea that calms my nerves and its usual dark chocolate accompaniment. The French word, “brun,” is essentially an adjective used to describe brown or dark hair, eyes, etc. Coincidentally, it was one of the hardest for me to pronounce when I first started learning. Always having trouble with “r” in any language, English included, I couldn’t fathom jumping from the bilabial “b” to that distinct French “r” with much success. It took years and a French minor to perfect it. Now, I think it’s one of the most beautiful words in a beautiful language. It’s even the name of the only eye shadow that ever tints the lids of my green (unfortunately not brown) eyes.
Brown was the color of the fallen leaves when, two years ago, I suddenly found myself struggling to walk. The shattering crunch they made beneath my feet distracted me from each painstaking step. It was on those walks that I continuously questioned the path I was following. Now, I can run, but I still look forward to their beautiful sound and what thoughts they might provoke.
I guess, then, I was destined to be a “food person,” for brown is the color of flavor. Brown is the place where sight, taste, and smell collide. These three senses are necessary for any culinary experience. Brown is the color of roasting and baking. Brown is the color of caramelization and the color that signals a lack of moisture and a concentration of flavor. It’s the crusty sear on a steak and the cheesy top of a gratin. It’s the valuable bits at the bottom of the sauté pan and the golden hue of the outside of a buttery pound cake. It has an aroma; it has a texture.
This straightforward fish dish highlights the beauty of brown. The Almond Flounder Meunière (I used sole) comes from Dorie Greenspan, my favorite cookbook author. Not only are her recipes simple and elegant, but her voice is approachable. Reading one of her cookbooks feels like sitting down with an old friend for coffee. You know, if your old friend lives a bicontinental life in the U.S. and in France and always has a heartwarming story to tell.
Here, Dorie – yes, Dorie. We call friends by their first names, right? — creates something ingenious from two iconic French dishes: sole meunière and sole almandine. What results, is the most comforting fish dish to come out of my kitchen in some time (and I cook fish two to three times a week) due to one simple thing: the color brown. Brown butter and almonds. These two ingredients are just as nutty and rich as the color itself. There’s a reason why brown butter is “beurre noisette” in French, noisette meaning hazelnut. Once the butter reaches this golden state, it takes on the smell of roasted hazelnuts and a taste that rounds out and adds a toasted depth to anything it adorns.
The sweet fish is encrusted in almonds and sautéed in browned butter, the combination resulting in an overall warmth that encompasses all of my reasons for loving the color. The fish is then garnished with a smattering of toasted, slivered almonds, their faintly brown color adding even more crunch and flavor. Brown plays well with others, too, and a garnish of parsley adds a verdant freshness to the rich dish, and a squeeze of lemon cuts the richness but also brightens and enhances the browned flavor.
This easy dish will become a staple in my home, and I hope it does for you, too. It doesn’t require a fussy side; in fact, something simple will most effectively highlight the richness of the fish. I got the recipe out of the fabulous Around My French Table, but you can also find it here on Leite’s Culinaria.