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FOOD & DRINK

How to order the perfect steak in France

Well-cooked or still bleeding, entrecôte or onglet, with salad or green beans - here is our complete guide to getting the perfect steak in France.

How to order the perfect steak in France
Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash

It’s a bistro classic, but in a recent poll of Local readers steak-frites was ranked one of the most ‘over-rated’ dishes in France.

While there are undoubtedly restaurants producing badly-cooked and over-priced steak, especially in tourist areas, for some people the problem is either one of expectations, ordering or cooking.

So here are some things to know to get the perfect steak while in France.

Cuts

There are of course several different cuts of meat on offer in most restaurants, while some of these translate directly others are different styles or cuts that are relatively unusual to find in the UK or US. 

Entrecôte – this is the most common cut and entrecôte-frites (steak and chips) is available on most café or bistro menus – the cut is a ribeye.

The classic accompaniment is either green beans or a green salad, but many cafés serve it with no sides – if you see vegetables like haricots verts (green beans) or épinards (spinach) listed separately on the menu it usually means your steak and chips will come with no veg unless you order it. 

Filet – filet steak. The most tender cut and usually the most expensive.

Faux-filet – Sirloin (sometimes also called New York strip).

Rumsteak – rump.

Bavette – this is hanger steak or skirt steak, which comes from the animal’s flank. It has a lot of muscle so it’s one of the chewier cuts, but has great flavour. 

Onglet – another term for undercut or skirt steak.

Côte de boeuf – ribeye on the bone. A beautiful but large cut of meat, this is usually sold as a dish to share between two people, and even then you’ll need to have a good appetite.

Pièce du boucher – you’ll see this on a lot of menus but it isn’t actually a cut, it means ‘butcher’s choice’ and it varies depending on what’s in. It’s the steak equivalent of plat du jour (dish of the day). 

Steak haché – literally ‘chopped steak’, this is actually minced beef. If you see it on a menu, it means a burger, not a steak.

Steak tartare (or tartare de boeuf) – this is steak that is chopped into small pieces and served raw, in a patty like a burger. Some foreigners find the idea of eating totally raw meat (often topped with a raw egg yolk) too much, but it’s actually delicious and very flavourful.  

Tough

One of the main complaints that people have is that their steak is tough and it’s true that different farming standards in France mean that your steak is likely to be tougher than in the US.

Obviously if you can’t cut your meat then it’s too tough, but if it’s simply chewy then that’s OK – it usually means that the cow has moved around a lot more in its life and had the chance to develop some muscle. 

The flip side to this is that more chewy meat usually has more flavour, so don’t immediately assume that having to chew your food is bad, but if you’re not a fan then go for one of the more tender cuts like filet.

Cooking 

Another issue for visitors to France is that French people generally like their meat quite pink so if that’s not your favourite then make sure to specify this when ordering.

Bleu – blue. This is barely cooked at all, the classic method for a bleu is 20 seconds on each side, so it’s basically a raw steak with a very thin crust of cooked meat. 

Saignant – rare. This literally means ‘bloody’ and if you order your steak like this the inside will be red, not pink. It’s probably closer to what would be called ‘blue’ in the UK or US.

Mi-saignant – half rare. A less common order, but this is rare steak that is slightly more cooked, and has a little pink meat, but still a red centre.

A point – medium. If you order this your steak will be pink in the middle, not bleeding, with a well-cooked crust.

Rose – pink. This is the same thing as ordering à point

Cuit – cooked. If you usually order a medium steak in the UK or US, you might find à point is too pink for you (it’s more equivalent to ‘medium rare’), so request cuit instead, which has just a touch of pink inside.

Bien cuit – well cooked. If you don’t like to see red or pink meat in the inside of your steak, then you need to specify that you want it ‘well cooked’ – ie brown all the way through.

There’s an urban myth that French chefs refuse to do ‘well done’ steaks but while there are doubtless a few divas out there, in most places it is of course the customer’s choice. Especially in tourist areas, service staff are well used to the fact that British or American customers like their meat ‘scorched’ so your request is unlikely to raise many eyebrows. Just don’t ask for ketchup to go with it, we beg you. 

The below French cooking guide gives you an idea of what each order will look like, although of course this can vary between establishments. 

Serving staff will always ask how you want your meat cooked when you order, and you will get the same question if you order other meats, such as duck or lamb, or a burger.   

Member comments

  1. I never really liked steack frites until I started to live in France. Now I love it but it has to be: bavette d’olayou, between 60 and 90 seconds per side in a heavy, preferably cast iron, pan that’s as hot as you can get it. A solid iron griddle on a barbecue works as well (what Italians cal ‘al ferro’). And, most important, it must be rested for a few minutes covered with foil before serving. Brush it with seasoned olive oil immediately before cooking (oiling the pan/griddle is pointless as the heat will vapourise it immediately) but this way it is driven into the steak. And as for frites, as an exiled Lancastrian I have strong opinions on them: a pox upon your pathetic allumettes and standard frites, it has to be big chips (XL frites from Picard are good but really chunky ones from Lidl are even better) that have been cooked twice in peanut or sunflower oil in a proper friteuse, first at 160C and then, after draining and drying, at 190C. ‘Oven Chips’ are quite simply beyond the pale. Why do you think Tefal went to the trouble of inventing the perfect friteuse? This will drain and strain your oil into a storage tank after cooking so you can stick the bowl into the dishwasher and avoid the buildup of all that gunk which can make the job of changing the oil in your friteuse worse than doing the same for your car.

    Possibly the best lunch I ever had was steack tartare at a cafe restaurant in the St Just area of Lyon, absolutely perfect meat, raw egg yolk on top, big chips still hissing when the plate hit the table.

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FOOD & DRINK

France introduces stricter wine rules for restaurants, bars and cafés

The French government has introduced stricter wine rules for restaurants, bars and cafés, which must now display full information on the origins of all wines they serve.

France introduces stricter wine rules for restaurants, bars and cafés

If you’re ordering a bottle of wine it’s likely that the menu will state where the wine comes from, but previously this was not always the case for wines bought by the glass or carafe.

Most French cafés and restaurants offer wine by the glass as well as pitchers or carafes or various sizes, which are also sometimes referred to as un pot, particularly in the east of France.

Thanks to a new law that came into effect on July 24th, if you order any of these, the bar or restaurant is obliged to display full information on where the wine comes from, and its protected geographical origin (AOP) if it has one.

Any establishments that sell wine – whether for consumption on or off the premises – must display the information in full and in writing. Failure to do so makes them liable to a €1,500 fine. 

The law is a revision of the Loi relative à la transparence de l’information sur les produits agricoles et alimentaires, which came into force in 2020 and is intended to protect French farmers and producers.

French vocab

Une bouteille de vin rouge, s’il vous plaît –  a bottle of red wine, please

Une bouteille de vin blanc – a bottle of white wine

Un pichet de vin rosé – a pitcher of rosé wine

Une carafe de vin – a pitcher of wine

Pichet and carafe are just different words for the same thing, and if you want tap water (as opposed to mineral water) with your meal, ask for un pichet d’eau or une carafe d’eau. Carafes usually come in varying sizes, the most common being 50cl or 25cl.

Cinqante centilitres – 50cl, or two thirds of a bottle

Vingt-cinq centilitres – 25cl, or one third of a bottle

Un pot lyonnais – if you’re in or around Lyon, you might see wine listed on the menu as by the pot – this comes in a carafe that is shaped like a small bottle with a very thick glass bottom. The classic pot lyonnais holds exactly 46 centilitres, or just over half a bottle  

Un verre de vin rouge – a glass of red wine 

Encore de vin, s’il vous plaît – another wine, please (the ‘encore‘ lets your server know that you want another glass/bottle/pitcher of the same wine)

Vin bio – organic wine

Vin naturel – wine produced by ‘natural’ methods 

Bio, natural or biodynamic: 5 things to know about organic wine in France

Qui va goûter? – Who will taste? The standard question that your server will ask when they bring the bottle of wine to your table

Un pot-de-vin – a bribe. Not a wine term as such, but if you hear reference to un pot-de-vin it means a bribe. These days bribes are usually paid in cash, but the origins of the term are pretty clear.

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