I’m no Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray. My friends know the kitchen is not my favorite room.
However, I have had a few classes in French. Here’s my attempt to bring clarification to the difference between filet and fillet, which is minimal.
Filet in French
My French dictionary defines filet as a noun that means a small thread, a thin streak of light, or a thin trickle of water.
As a verb, fillet relates to netting something, as to be caught in a fishing net, to stabilize hair under a hair net, or to hold something in a luggage rack.
By the way, both are pronounced fill-AY, with the accent on the second syllable and the t remaining silent.
Filet in English
In English, both filet and fillet can mean a strip of boneless meat — that is, as long as you include fish, poultry, pork and veal as meat, defined as the flesh of any animal.
The verb fillet means to remove the bones from or to cut or prepare as a fillet (the noun).
Filet of beef, chicken or fish?
Many relate filet primarily to beef, whether in a grocery store, butcher shop or restaurant. Some menus list it as filet mignon, described as a thick slice of boneless beef that’s cut from the narrow end of a beef tenderloin.
Another description, however, notes that filet mignon is cut form the thickest part of the tenderloin.
And there can be filet of beef, pork or veal.
Is it any wonder there’s confusion about these terms?
You say ‘fillet,’ I say ‘filet’
The conclusion: Either fillet or filet is appropriate when referring to any meat without bones.
Filet mignon means tiny fillet, which correlates with the first French definition implying something cute or small. Yet in restaurants, you usually have a choice of sizes (weights) to order.
McDonald’s takes liberties by calling one of its menu items Filet-O-Fish, perhaps adopting the filet spelling to hint that it is a bit above your average fish fillet sandwich. (As of 2016, McDonald’s says it uses Marine Stewardship Council certified wild-caught Alaskan Pollock for its fish sandwiches.)
And we of course have the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain that specializes in chicken sandwiches.
So take your pick: filet of beef (or pork or veal) or filet mignon. With fish or chicken, you’ll more often see it identified as fillet.
Neither my blog subscriber nor I have a reason to feel inadequate — or alone — in lack of understanding. Whether fillet or filet or myriad other similar words, the English language offers enough choices to keep us all confused and guessing.
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