Has this happened to you? You have been on vacation in France for a week or more. You like to eat and you have been trying your damnedest to figure why every restaurant you go to will serve you kidneys, sweetbreads, intestines and more and more guts. The time has come. You want a steak. An identifiable cut of beef. You have had enough guts, lamb, duck and fish for two vacations and you ready to eat some serious beef.
You are seated in that carefully chosen French restaurant Now the waiter is looking at you with a half cocked Gallic eye tapping his pen on his order pad. “Monsieur?” he asks. The rest of table looks at you. Well just what are you going to do?
Don’t panic. Here is our guide to ordering steaks in Paris. It will teach you how to order a steak during your visit to France with confidence. We start with what kind of meat you are going to order and more importantly focus on how you want it to be cooked so you will be looking at plate just like this when your arrives. And yes, there will be mustard.
Let’s start with cooking methods and meat quality. On the menu French steaks are referred to as grilled or grille. This means cooked on a very hot and hopefully heavy metal plan. It does not mean on an open fire. Open fire cooking is referred to as Charbon (charcoal) or Feu Du Bois (wood fire). Don’t be put off by this, the heavy cast iron hot pan sears the meat wonderfully and creates a great crust. Many chefs, your humble author included, swear by this technique.
French cattle are typically grass-fed although the use of feedlots is creeping in. Quality is good to very good but as grass-fed meat, steaks will be tougher and as such don’t lend themselves well to longer cooking times due to the lack of fat.
French cuts are very different from those in the US and UK. Look at this guide to french butchering for help:
OK, Now what is on the menu?
Entrecôte. The most likely steak that you will encounter on the menu is referred to simply as “steak frites”. The cut of meat will be an entrecôte, throughout most of the world known as the ever-reliable rib eye. Portion size will vary from 250 to 400 grams, or 8 to 14 oz. Smaller sized stakes are much more likely and weight is rarely spelled out. Be careful here, a 250 gram steak is going to be very thin so don’t over cook it.
Chateaubriand. A very thick cut from the tenderloin. Never ever to be ordered well done.
Filet Mignon. Well known in the US, it is the same filet cut.
Bavette. Now familiar and called Skirt Steak.
Onglet. Now common in the US, called a Hangar Steak.
Rumsteck. Sometimes called a Top Butt in the US and UK and often in France a ‘Pave de Rumsteck”.
Faux Filet. Closest to our Sirloin.
Steak Tartare. Not a steak at all but a plate of raw ground steak not ground meat.
Steak Hache. A hamburger.
How will it be cooked?
French terms for how to cook steak are much more complex and nuanced then those in the US and even vary from meat to meat. With thanks to Chef EJ Keller of Carottes & Caviar in Paris, here is your guide from least cooked to most.
Bleu. Used on beef only. This means what it translates to, bleu means blue, cooked on a very hot grill pan very briefly so as to sear both sides. Inside should be very very rare and liquid should pour out onto your plate.
Saignant. Pronounced ‘signon’. Rare and on the rare side of rare at that. Many restaurants want to serve their steak this way and why not? Look at this entrecôte, cooked the only way they will let you order it at La Regalade in the 14th:
Saignant Plus. Not used frequently but essentially between rare and medium rare.
A point. Medium Rare. Chef’s choice. Grilled crusty on the outside, pink inside.
Rose. More likely to be used with veal and or lamb. Medium
Rose plus. Medium well.
Bien cuit. Well done. Be forewarned that this will be well done and subject to you to the wrath of your waiter.
And don’t forget the fries. What is a great steak without them?
Some thoughts on where to get a great steak in Paris:
La Regalade, mentioned above, 49 Avenue Jean Moulin, Paris 75014. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The very trendy Beef Club Ballroom. http://www.eccbeefclub.com
For more choices go to: http://parisbymouth.com/five-great-steak-frites/
The never changing Relais De L’Entrecote in the 6th. Well that is a cheat because you won’t have to order, everyone gets the same steak. So don’t bring a vegetarian under any circumstance. And if you don’t ask it will be cooked a point. Guaranteed.
Had a great steak in Paris? Then add it to our list.
Still planning your trip? Then why not stay with us at our Yellow Flat in Paris? We look forward to greeting you and sharing stories of the challenges of eating meat in France.