Saturday, August 25, 2012

Steak Frites - the Great Steaks from France. Onglets and Bavettes in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Updated June 2019
A window into the world of steak frites.
North American and European steak restaurants knew they were missing something when they saw happy tourists coming home from France talking about Steak Frites.   They were telling stories about, juicy steaks with fries or salad, and a glass of wine that cost them less than many restaurants charged for a hamburger. Then to further ease the traveler’s digestion, the servers were professional, and the bill was tip free.

Where did Steak Frites come from?

French restaurants are required by law to show their complete menu outside the restaurant, though that is rarely followed to the letter. Daily specials are often written in restaurant shorthand on a blackboard (or a whiteboard) called an “ardoise” in French. Restaurant shorthand is used in all countries, but it’s usually only seen in the kitchen. Here, the restaurants that began the craze for tasty and inexpensive steak frites in France wrote the menus for a steak Onglet et Pommes Frites or a Steak Bavette et Pommes Frites in restaurant shorthand on the blackboard.  The French diners understood what was being offered, and as for the visitors with little French, they all understood Steak Frites. The rest is history.
Steak Frites.
“What's in a name? That which we call an onglet or bavette
By any other name would taste as sweet."
The great steaks behind Steak Frites.

The secret was Onglets and Bavettes; an onglet is a US hanger steak, and in the UK a skirt steak and a steak bavette is a flank steak on both sides of the pond — skirt steaks and hanger steaks must be prepared very carefully.  French chefs are trained to separate the different cuts and to see how the grain of the meat lies as well as most butchers. Then, since France has no equivalent to US Prime or US Choice, chefs personally check the age and internal marbling before buying.  In the kitchen, the chef or the sous chef cuts and marinates the steak. These cuts made excellent, tasty, steaks and were always among the most popular lower priced steaks on French menus, but they only made it across the channel and the pond when the menu listings were changed to Steak Frites.

To bring their well-traveled and experienced customers back some North American and UK steak houses even brought in French butchers. Now, the steakhouses knew that these cuts that required a lot of extra work but Steak Frites are now a hit on menus all over North America and Europe.

Despite what many travel books and other texts would have us believe rump steaks and entrecote are NOT behind France's Steak Frites. In France, restaurants would go broke selling entrecotes, rib-eyes, as steak frites, though, of course, you may pay extra and order one.   If you are visiting France, be ready for onglets and bavettes and in the kitchen and steak frites on the menu. 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 is a caveat, there are no well-done steak frites.

Steak Frites on the menu:

Steak Frites – Steak and French fries. Steak Salade – Steak and salad.

Steak Frites ± 180g – A 6 1/2 ounce steak with French fries.

Steak Frites, Salade Verte, Verre De Bordeaux ou Galopin De Biere – Steak with French fries and a green salad served with a glass of Bordeaux wine or a galopin, 125 ml of beer.

Steak Haché Frites – A chopped steak and French fries. Read the menu carefully; this is a chopped steak, close to a hamburger.

Ordering Steak Frites

Ordering a steak requires little French. Every French server understands an order for steak frites!  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 French, where a médium may connect you to the spirit world; however, medium is not a word that is used in the kitchen. To order a steak in France click on this link to Ordering a Steak in France, Cooked the Way you Like it.

The steaks behind Steak Frtes
Bavettes on French menus.

In a supermarket or butcher's there are two steaks with the name bavette.  Bavette d'Aloyau and Bavette de Flanchet are skirt (or flank steaks) with the Bavette d'Aloyau being awarded a few more points on the scoreboard but well prepared, grilled and served with fries and a glass of a decent red wine I don't think anyone can tell the difference.
Steak Bavette À Point.
Photograph courtesy of Ron Dollete.
Bavette Grillée Frites/ Salade – A grilled flank steak with French fries or a salad, (This is the original steak frites).

Bavette d'Aloyau Sauce à l'Echalote - A  skirt steak prepared with a shallot sauce; a very popular recipe for bavette steaks.  N.B. This menu listing does not include fries, Ask.

Bavette de Bœuf Frites Maison et Sauce Béarnaise – A flank steak with French fries and Sauce  Béarnaise
Bavette Frites Maison et Salade
Steak Frites, flank steak with French fries and salad.
Onglet – Hanger/Skirt steak.

A hanger steak can have a tendon running through but given a choice between an onglet and a bavette choose the onglet. This cut comes from between the kidneys, which helps account for its stronger flavor. In a butcher’s display side by side, you can tell the difference between an onglet and a bavette, an onglette has darker meat. On the plate the flavor makes the difference.
Onglet de Veau, Pommes Grenailles Rissolées, Jus Corsé -   Veal hanger/skirt steak with chopped and deep-fried small new potatoes and served with a sauce made from the natural cooking juices.
Onglet, Pommes Frites – A skirt/hangar steak with French fries.

Onglet de Bœuf Juste Poêlé Aux Echalotes – A very lightly fried skirt/hanger steak flavored with shallots. N.B. This menu listing does not show that it includes fries. Ask.

Green peppercorn sauce, fries fried in duck fat.

Restaurants selling steak frites may also offer steaks, an Entrecote, a Ribeye; a Steak de Hamp , a steak close to the skirt; steak a Filet de Bœuf, a Fillet steak; a Faux Filet,  UK Sirloin Steak, in the USA a Strip Steak; a Steak Macreuse, no direct translation, plus a variety of rump steaks and more.  The French carefully choose different cuts ignored elsew and serve those with more taste and texture by name on the menu.

A steak des bouchers
A butcher’s steak.

Often a rump steaks will 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 appreciates 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. Another special cut is a Pave de Rumsteck; nevertheless, none of these cuts make it to most North American or UK menus.

A steak des bouchers, a steak araignée.
The butcher's steak.

                                     About the French used for Steak Frites.

The other steaks that may be on your menu:

Contre– Fillet, or Faux Fillet; a UK Sirloin, A USA Strip Steak. Ordering a steak in France II.



Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2015, 2019.
For information on the unpublished  book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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  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.