Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ordering a Steak Rare, Medium-Rare, Medium or Well-Done in France.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Updated April 2018
All the French you need to order a perfectly cooked steak.
Steak Frites
Steak and French fries, steak, and chips.
Photograph courtesy of @joefoodie

The short version

Very, very rare - Bleu –  (Pronounced ble). 
Rare -  Saignant – (Pronounced say-nyon, do not pronounce the T). 
Medium rare with the accent on the rare-  À Point - (Pronounced ah pwa).    
 Medium rare closer to medium      Entre à Point et Bien Cuit –  (Pronounced awntr a pwan ay bien kwee).
Medium to well done-   Bien Cuit – (Pronounced bien kwee). 
Well done - Très Bien Cuit –(Pronounced tray bien kwee). An exceptionally well-done steak; however, “très bien cuit” is not in any French chef’s dictionary though it will be clearly understood.  Nevertheless, do not order France's popular steak frites very well-done; you will be served cooked leather.         

More detail

North American and UK steakhouse terms such as medium, medium-rare, or well-done do NOT translate, conceptually, into traditional restaurant French. Your English-French travel dictionary may offer the word Moyen as the translation of the word medium, and that is correct.  Unfortunately, in French Moyen is not used as a cooking term.

Ordering a steak requires little French. It does not matter whether you order a steak in English, or in perfect or poorly accented French. Every French waiter understands an order for a steak.  Problems only appear when the waiter asks:  Quelle cuisson, votre steak?  How would you like your steak cooked?  
Check these pictures,
Photograph courtesy of the online magazine OhMyMag

A lexicon of French terms for ordering a steak or cuts of beef

Bleu – Very, very rare. French for the color blue, and also the name used to order a seriously rare steak.  When you feel the need for an almost raw steak, then a steak bleu will fill that need. A steak bleu indicates that the chef will have allowed the steak to take a quick peek at the grill or frying pan, in passing, on its way to your plate. A steak bleu is just sealed on the outside; when cut that steak will leak copiously onto your plate; it will have been cooked, maybe, for one to two minutes on each side.
 Saignant – French for a rare steak.  The direct translation into English of the word saignant would be bloody, or bleeding; despite that, a steak saignant will have been cooked a little more than a steak bleu. A steak saignant will also leak, when you cut into it, though less copiously than a steak bleu.   In North America and the UK, a steak saignant will still be considered a rare steak.
À point - Perfectly cooked, just ready or just right.  À point is the term used, in France, for all perfectly cooked foods, and not for steaks alone. Unfortunately, many guidebooks give the term à point as the way to order a medium-rare steak. A perfectly cooked steak, for most French men and women, it is NOT medium-rare rather it is a rare-to-medium-rare steak, closer to rare than the US or UK medium
À point

            I prefer my steaks cooked à point, but that is my choice. French servers with experience with English-speaking tourists will agree, generally with a smile, to take your à point steak back into the kitchen for a few more minutes on the grill, or the frying pan when à point is too rare for your tastes.
             When English speaking diners, in France, wish to order their steaks medium-rare, I suggest they order steaks cooked entre à point et bien cuit; that translates as “between well cooked and à point”  the result will be a US or UK medium-rare steak, closer to medium than rare.  For a medium-rare steak just ask for your steak entre à point et bien cuit.
Entre à Point et Bien Cuit  – Ordering medium rare steaks, in France, entre à point et bien cuit has worked well for me and all French servers will understand it.  A French diner sitting near you, and observing you order a steak cooked entre à point et bien cuit may consider your steak as overcooked; however, you are paying the piper.
Moyen –  Average or the middle. In the French kitchen, the word moyen has nothing to do with steaks, it does not mean medium.   
Bien Cuit  – Bien cuit translates into English as well done; however, an order for a steak bien cuit, in France, generally produces a medium-to-well-done steak.  A steak bien cuit will not run at all; however, its center will still be slightly rosé, pink.

Bien Cuit
Very slightly rose in the center.
Très Bien Cuit – Very well cooked; an extremely well-done steak.  Unfortunately, très bien cuit is not used for steaks in French kitchens; I made it up.  Despite that, all servers with some experience with overseas visitors will understand the request. For the French très bien cuit means an overcooked steak, and the server may ask you to repeat that instruction. If you have ordered steak frites, an experienced server may advise you re-consider, or order something else.  The cuts used for France’s relatively inexpensive steak frites are usually flank steaks, and a well-done flank steak will be tough and tasteless, practically inedible. For an enjoyable meal with a well-done steak, I suggest that you look through the menu again.  Consider ordering a more expensive entrecôte, or change your request for your steak très bien cuit to just bien cuit.
The French view of a steak cooked très bien cuit, very well done.
Steaks and cuts of beef on French menus:

When ordering your steak remember the French also make great French fries, chips.


A Tournedos Rossini.
Photograph by MonkeyBusiness/
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Bryan G Newman

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  1. Thanks. Re pronunciation, however, I believe the first word of "entre á point et bien cuit" would be pronounced AWNTr, because it presumably means "between." If pronounced as entray (really awntray), it means first course, and it would need an accent on the final E.