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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.

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

  • No mention of pronunciation? /ˈfɪlɪt/ or /file/ ? – GEdgar Dec 8 '11 at 22:18
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Upon asking a professional butcher in a meat market, I was informed that the word filet, pronounced 'fillay', is the process of cutting a 'fillet', pronounced 'fil'- lette'. Therefore, filet would be the verb and fillet would be the noun.

  • Can you please add the region so the origin is known? At least to distinguish between American English and British English? – Bookeater Aug 12 '15 at 8:52
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In the USA I have most often seen "filet" for the noun (regardless of whether it is fish, beef, pork, etc.) although fillet is also "permissable". It is correct either way. The English culinary word derives from the French word like many or most culinary terms such as "purée". And, for example, the interchangeable word for beef tenderloin (filet mignon). When using it as a verb (i.e. to "debone" fish or meat) it is preferred to use fillet (present tense) and filleted past tense. Example: He filleted the red snapper with his fancy Japanese steel chef's knife. Ah. By the way, a knife specially created for deboning is sometime called a "filet knife", sometimes a "fillet knife". I see them both ways on Amazon.com. And to clarify. A steak (or piece of fish) with bone removed is a filet. One with the bone is more correctly called a chop. For example, a T-Bone and Porterhouse steak are not filets, they are technically chops. No offense intended to the butcher that stated the opposite for the noun and the verb. By the way, whether spelled filet or fillet, it is pronounced "filay".

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