Saturday, December 17, 2016

Araignée, the Spider; Merlan, Whiting, the Fish; Poire, the Pear; Langue de Chat, the Cat's Tongue. France’s Unique Cuts of Beef That are also Called the Butcher’s Choice.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman
Great cuts of beef
Araignée de Bœuf, Merlan de Rumsteck,  Poire de Bœuf, and the Langue de Chat.
These are four of the best and tenderest cuts that are also among the less expensive cuts and will be on many French menus.  Unfortunately, there are no equivalent English or North American names for these cuts. At best they will be marked as rump steaks, and that covers a much larger area and ignores the special qualities of these cuts.  In the USA and the UK, these cuts will rarely be seen as their preparation requires a patient and dedicated artisanal butcher.

The Piece de Boucher or Morceaux du Boucher

In France, these cuts may be called the Piece de Boucher, or the Morceaux du Boucher, the butcher’s choice. The names come from the butcher knowing the real value of these cuts with any unsold pieces being taken home by the butcher for his or her family.

To complicate matters, the French have given names to these cuts that have nothing to do with beef. This does cause confusion when a diner is using an abridged travel French-English dictionary where the secondary names like these are omitted.  French cuisine has hundreds of names that have no direct relationship to their real place on the menu. Most of these oddly placed names were given about 200 years ago, and so today there is no one around to blame.
France does not have grades for the quality of the cuts as the USA does with USDA Prime and USDA Choice etc. France’s solution is possibly better with all French chefs who graduate first class cooking schools having learned to identify and evaluate all the significant cuts.  A well-trained French chef can stand in for many butchers. Large restaurants often employ their own butcher to ensure that each cut is properly labeled.
Araignée de Bœuf -  The Spider Cut
Araignée, the spider cut, is an irregularly shaped cut that comes from the gastrocnemius muscle. It produces better tasting and tenderer steaks than most other rump steaks.  The Araignée is tender enough and tasty enough to be one of the cuts used for Fondue Bourguignon, Burgundian fondues. For this cut even the well-trained, French butchers need extra patience as this cut is covered by other muscles.

The Araignée de Bœuf
When grilled or fried the fat marbling will disappear.
The name Araignée, a spider, comes from the way the steak looks after it is cut away. Nevertheless, be aware that France’s tastiest local crab is the Araignée or Araignée de Mer or the Crabe Araignée and may also be on the menu.  Look on the menu for Araignée de Bœuf to be sure what you are ordering!
Araignée de Bœuf on French Menus:

Araignée de Bœuf Grillée, Beurre Maître d'Hôtel – The Araignée, the spider cut, grilled and served with Beurre Maître d'Hôtel.  Beurre Maître d’Hôtel is a compound butter, that is a cold hard butter made with butter, parsley and lemon juice. It is placed on the steak when it is served and as it melts it adds flavor.

A steak with Beurre Maître d'Hôtel

Araignée de Boeuf Poêlée, Sauce Poivre Flambée au Cognac - The Araignée, the spider cut, lightly fried and served with a pepper sauce; just before serving it is flambéed in Cognac. The pepper used here will usually be green peppercorns as they are not as spicy as black peppercorns and so the heat of the sauce is more easily controlled by the chef.

L'Araignée de Boeuf, Sauce aux Morilles et Gratin Dauphinois – The Araignée, the spider cut, grilled and served with a morel mushroom sauce accompanied by a Gratin Dauphinois. A  Gratin Dauphinois is baked sliced potatoes cooked in milk and cream, flavored with nutmeg, garlic, thyme, and shallots and then browned under the grill usually with Gruyere or Parmesan cheese.
 Merlan de Boeuf-  The Whiting cut.
A whiting is a fish, and this is a long, narrow muscle that can be seen, by some, to resemble the fish; however, the name is all that really connects this tender and tasty cut of beef.  The name may not sound attractive if you are considering which steak to order, but be aware that is one of best cuts from the rump.  Once again, read your menu carefully as merlan is the French name for whiting, the fish, and this is a steak.

The Merlan cut
  It does look like a fish doesn't it?

The Merlan de Bœuf on French Menus:
Merlan de Boeuf Charolais  Echalote  Confit,  Carottes des Sables - A  merlan steak from the Charolais AOP cattle served with a shallot confit (jam) and the label rouge, red label carrots from the Sables. These are France’s most highly rated carrots; they are grown near the town of Créances close to the Atlantic coast in the department of Manche in Bass Normandie.  
 N.B. Bass Normandie, lower Normandy and Haut Normandie, upper Normandy, will no longer be on any new maps.  On 1-1-2015 France passed a law reducing the number of regions in mainland France from 22 to 13, The reduction in the number of regions, which work in certain ways in a similar manner to US states and UK Counties, is intended to reduce bureaucracy and administrative costs.  All the departments in the two regions of Normandy are now joined in one super-department just called Normandie, Normandy..  Quite simple really and lots of money saved for the taxpayer.
Merlan de Bœuf Accompagné de Pommes de Terres au Thym – A merlan steak accompanied by potatoes flavored with thyme, the herb.
Pavé de Rumsteck De Merlan Grillé Sauce Bordelaise –  A thick cut of a merlan steak served with Sauce Bordelaise. Sauce Bordelaise is made with a veal stock, a Bordeaux red wine, butter, shallots, and herbs.

A French Filet de Bœuf with Sauce Bordelaise
Cœur de Rumsteck de Merlan de Bœuf Grillé, Sauce au Poivre Gris, Pomme de Terre  - A center cut of a grilled Merlan rump steak served with a  gray pepper sauce and potatoes. Gray pepper is the term used for certain ground black peppercorns that still have white centers and when ground produce a gray colored ground pepper.

 Poire de Bœuf  - The Pear.

The Poire, the pear, is a pear-shaped muscle and that gives it its name. This muscle is rarely used, and so it has tender meat.

The Poire, the Pear Muscle.
The Poire de Bœuf on French Menus:
Poire de Bœuf aux Girolles, sa Confiture d'Oignons Blanc au Verjus Du Périgord  Sauce Lie de Vin À La Moutarde Violette de Brive. – A grilled Poire steak with Girolle Chanterelle mushrooms served with a confiture (jam) of white onions flavored with Verjus from Perigord and a Sauce Lie de Vin flavored with the Violette Mustard of Brive.

Girolle Chanterelle mushrooms in the forest.
A Sauce Lie de Vin is a red wine sauce made with veal stock, fish fumet, shallots, button mushrooms, crème fraiche and butter. Herbs, pepper, and salt will be added as the chef prefers. On this menu listing the sauce is flavored with the Violette Mustard of Brive from the region of Limousin. This mustard is made with fresh grape juice and the skin and seeds from grapes along with mustard seeds, water, wine and vinegar.  The resulting mustard is violet without any artificial coloring 
N.B.  On 1-1-2015 the French government passed a law reducing the number of mainland regions from 22 to 13.  The reduction will hopefully cut red tape and save a great deal of the taxpayer's money.  Limousin will cease to be any new maps as it will join the regions of Aquitaine and Poitou-Charentes as the new super-region of Nouvelle Aquitaine.
Poire de Bœuf, Sauce Béarnaise – A grilled Merlan steak served with Sauce Béarnaise. Sauce Bearnaise is based on Sauce Hollandaise with the lemon replaced by white wine vinegar, shallots, chervil, and tarragon.

Poire de Boeuf et Son Jus au Porto, Purée de Panais à la Vanille, Poêlée de Shitakés en Persillade.   A fried Merlan steak prepared with a Port wine sauce and served with a parsnip puree flavored with vanilla, and fried, farmed, shitake mushrooms cooked in a persillade. A persillade is a sauce made with parsley and garlic.

Langue de Chat de Bœuf – The Cat’s Tongue.
This is a cut from the heart of the rump and not a separate muscle.  While tender it is not quite as good as the three cuts above but preferable to a regular rump steak.

Langue de Chat de Bœuf on French Menus:

Pièce de Bœuf Poêlé "Langue De Chat," au Thyme et Laurier - The butcher’s choice of the cut called the cat’s tongue cut prepared with thyme and bay leaves.
Tartare Maison de Langue De Chat de Bœuf Périgourdine - This restaurant’s version of Beef Tartar prepared with the meat of the cat’s tongue with the beef from Perigord.

Bœuf Tartare
Langue De Chat (Pièce De Bœuf), Pommes De Terre, Chérie Confites Au Thym Et Ses Petits Légumes Du Marché, Sauce Aux Girolle.   -  The butcher’s choice, the cat’s tongue, potatoes, cherry tomatoes confit (a cherry tomato jam) prepared with thyme and young vegetables from the market and served with a sauce from Girolle Chanterelle mushrooms.
Connected Posts:

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


  1. By Young Man With Rohui Fish Cutting And Slicing At Knife In The Fish Market

  2. By Young Man With Rohui Fish Cutting And Slicing At Knife In The Fish Market