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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Onglet and Bavettes on French Menus.Steak Frites in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

A window into the world of steak frites.
Photograph courtesy of psd.
France popularized steak frites using some of the tastiest, but inexpensive cuts; however, these cuts need a great deal of preparation. UK and North American chefs prefer cuts that require less work; for the diner less preparation requires more expensive steaks. 

Steak Frites with a Sauce Beurre Bercy
and watercress.
Photograph courtesy  of axlxyz
The onglet is a hangar or skirt steak and the bavette a flank steak.
The onglet and the bavette are the steaks behind France’s steak frites, steak and French fries in North America and steak and chips in the UK.  These cuts never made it to North American steakhouses until a few years ago. The steak onglet is the US hanger steak or London broil and a UK skirt steak. A steak bavette is a flank steak on both sides of the pond.
French chefs were internationally successful with their low-priced, tasty, and juicy steak frites. Now restaurants from Alaska to Texas, from London to Edinburgh and from Perth to Sydney sell steak frites. The secret behind French steak frites are the chefs or sous chefs who have become experts in choosing meat. France has no equivalent to US Prime or US Choice so chefs personally check the age and internal marbling before buying.  The chef or sous chef will personally prepare the steaks that will be served in the restaurant.

Steak Frites À Point.
Photograph courtesy of  gtrwndr87.
In the kitchen, the chef or the sous chef cuts and marinates the steak. Marinating makes these flavorsome cuts less stringy. As long as they are not overcooked, these cuts make excellent, tasty, steaks. Later, In the kitchen, the chef de partie, the line chef, will grill or fry the steaks to order. You may order these steaks from rare to medium-well; however, there are no well-done steak frites.

Ordering Steak Frites
Ordering a steak requires little French. It does not matter whether you order your steak frites, in English, or in perfect or poorly accented French.  Every French server understands an order for a steak!  Problems only appear when the server asks:  Quelle cuisson, votre steak?  How would you like your steak cooked?  English terms such as medium-rare, medium or well-done do not translate, conceptually, into restaurant French. The word medium is used in France; however, it is not a word that is used in the kitchen.
If you are visiting France, cut out and take with you the short lexicon below this paragraph. This lexicon covers the six French terms that will allow you to order your steak frites cooked in the manner you prefer. In addition, of course, French chefs make fabulous French fries, chips,  and excellent salads. Ordering steak frites or a steak salade, in France, should guarantee you a great meal.

Steak frites super-sized.
Photograph courtesy of moyses.
A Lexicon for Ordering a Steak in France.
 Bleu -A very very rare steak. (Bleu is pronounced ble)
Saignant -A rare steak. (Saignant is pronounced sayan)
À Point – Perfectly cooked.  (À Point is pronounced ah pwa).
À point does not mean medium-rare, it means perfectly cooked. À point is the term used for perfectly cooked steaks, rice, pasta, fish, seafood and other dishes; it is not a term used especially for steaks. However, most Frenchmen and women consider a perfectly cooked steak to be cooked  rare to medium-rare.  Shame on those guidebooks that call a steak à point a medium-rare steak. That misinformation may make you send the steak back for a few more minutes in the frying pan or on the grill. 


Steak frites served sliced and cooked  à point
Photograph courtesy of rondostar
Entre à Point et Bien Cuit -  Medium rare, a little closer to medium. (Pronounced entray a pwa eh bien kwee).  The direct translation is: between rare to medium-rare and  well-done. That should provide a steak cooked close to medium.

A steak cooked entre à point et bien cuit - medium rare,
Photograph courtesy of goodiesfirst.
Bien Cuit - A medium to well-done steak. (Pronounced: bien kwee)
Très Bien Cuit – A well-done steak. (Pronounced: tray bien kwee).

A server with prior exposure to visitors to France will understand as request for a steak très bien cuit.  However, no normal French chef, will agree  to overcook the steak used for steak frites. These steaks, if cooked to well-done, will produce a very tough steak; an inedible steak.  Better to order a more expensive steak such as an entrecote that can be grilled, or fried, to the level of well-done.

This lexicon is short and designed for this post. If you want to read more about the French restaurant, cooking terms for meat see the original post:  Ordering a steak in France cooked the way you like it.
For the secrets behind the France's fries, see the post: Frites, Pommes Frites - French Fries.
Bon Appétit.

A steak des bouchers
 A butcher’s steak.
Other inexpensive steaks that may be on the menu
 may be called a butcher’s steak.
Restaurants selling steak frites may also offer a rump steak. Often that is a steak araignée,  that may also be called a steak des bouchers or a pièce du boucher.  In English a steak des bouchers would be the butcher’s steak.  A butcher’s steak is a traditional name used in many countries and in many languages.  The name is used for any low cost steaks that a butcher is said to appreciate for their hidden value. The implication is that the butcher will take the time required to prepare them; then he or she will take them home for his or her family. These cuts may be a little juicier than the regular cuts used for steak frites; however, they also cannot be ordered well done.

A steak des bouchers, a steak araignée.
The butcher's steak.
Photograph courtesy of  Mike_fleming
A steak araignée is a uniquely French cut.  North American and UK butchers prefer not to spend the time required for this cut. This cut requires extra work, and does produce a better tasting, and a tenderer steak than most other rump steaks. The reason many butchers do not bother with this cut is fairly simple, a whole steak araignée will weigh no more than 500-700 grams. A cut of 500 to 700 grams is only enough for two to three regular steaks or three to four small steaks. This is still a low priced steak and a better steak than the onglet or bavette. When the menu offers a steak araignée, a steak des bouchers, or the pièce du bœuf, and the price is not much more than the other steaks offered as steak frites, go for it.
N.B.: Be aware that one of France’s tasty and extremely popular local crabs is the crabe araignée, the spider crab. Watch what you are ordering!
None of the steaks noted above should be ordered well done. For a steak that can be ordered well-done and still  enjoyed you will have to pay more. See the post: Entrecôte (Entrecote). Ordering a Perfect Entrecote Steak in France.

An entrecote steak
Photograph courtesy of  @10
About the French used for Steak Frites.
Restaurant shorthand  is used in all countries. On a French restaurant menu steak and French fries, chips, should be written as steak et pomme frits. A steak and salad should be written as a steak et salade. However, the restaurants that began the craze for tasty and inexpensive steak frites wrote their whole menus in restaurant shorthand with chalk on a blackboard, their ardoise. The French diners understood what was being offered and the rest is history.
Connected Posts:

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2015.
For information on the unpublished  book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman



  1. Steak hache and frites is a cheaper option and very popular in cafes, especially with kids!
    A couple of weeks ago we noticed in a French supermarket that they will mince beef for you fresh at the counter. The beef was very lean and as the mincing machine had the facility to make steak hache 'patties' we ordered two. We were surprised that they lacked fat and were dry (healthy?)! But they were tasty cooked on a griddle!

    1. Hi Ojibway. Absolutely agree with you that steak or bouef hache is best appreciated by the kids, and today most French cafes also serve ketchup. Only buying the minced meat that is prepared in front of you is the way to go. The French supermarkets and butchers also allow you to decide the fat content. I have read enough about industrial minced meat to put me off buying that for life. On the up side boeuf hache is on enough early French menus to support a serious claim that the French invented the hamburger! In the early days boeuf hache meant hand cut steak and still today some restaurants offer steak haché façonné à la main, or, at least steak hache maison.