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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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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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