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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
  • In British English at any rate 'fillet' means to de-bone whereas 'filet' tends to refer to a way of cooking something. As such almost all white fish is filleted before it's sold. Technically a joint of red meat has been filleted if the bone has been removed but usually it is said to have been 'boned and rolled'. Also poultry is usually referred to as 'boned' or 'butterflied' rather than filleted. Strangely most beef steaks have no bone in them but the most expensive cut is known as 'fillet steak'. The idea that 'fillet' applies to meat and 'filet' to fish certainly does not apply in the UK.; – BoldBen Sep 10 at 22:01
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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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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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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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The difference in pronunciation is simple; spelling. If I see the word spelled filet on a menu I will pronounce it ‘filay’. If it is spelled fillet then it is pronounced ‘fillett’, hard t. That is because they are two separate words and should not be confused. If you wish to be pretentious by all means pronounce fillet as ‘filay’ but just know it’s wrong and people outside the US will laugh at you for it.

  • Please add some references to support your answer. – JJJ Sep 10 at 21:28
  • Welcome to EL&U. Please note that this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, but this answer doesn't really improve upon the answers that were already given eight years ago. You could improve it by providing references or examples. I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – choster Sep 10 at 21:37

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