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My significant other asked me today whether or not she should use a fillet or filet of steak in a recipe.

What is the difference between fillet and filet, and the history behind these words? Is there a context in which one should be used and the other shouldn't? Filet sounds rather French as in filet mignon.

My own brief experiences with the terms are that fillet is the term for the cut of meat whereas filet would be used for fish. I've also read that one is American English and the other is British English.

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Or as Ben Folds sang: 'Grew a moustache and a mullet, got a job at Chick-fil-A...' –  Snubian Dec 8 '11 at 21:33
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1 Answer

You are correct that Filet is the French spelling of fillet. According to the Oxford online dictionary:

Filet

French spelling of fillet, used especially in the names of French or French-sounding dishes

filet de boeuf

Fillet

a fleshy boneless piece of meat from near the loins or the ribs of an animal:

a chicken breast fillet

[mass noun] :

roast fillet of lamb (also fillet steak)

a beef steak cut from the lower part of a sirloin.

a boned side of a fish.

So, when preparing a dish, as an ingredient, you should use the word fillet. When referring to the name of the dish, it will depend (as you note: filet mignon).

Additionally, the Cambridge online dictionary states that filet is the US spelling of fillet:

Filet

US for fillet

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No mention of pronunciation? /ˈfɪlɪt/ or /file/ ? –  GEdgar Dec 8 '11 at 22:18
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