Saturday, December 15, 2018

Macreuse de Bœuf - One of the Tastiest Steaks on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Macreuse de bœuf.

The steak called a macreuse à biftek in French supermarkets is nearly always called a macreuse de bœuf on French menu listings, and there is no similar cut on USA or UK menus, outside of a real French restaurant.  Back in France chefs have to learn nearly as much as a butcher to graduate and they have knowledgeable customers who expect economic but very flavorful cuts in restaurants as well as butcher's shops and supermarkets. 

This macreuse à biftek comes from the same place North American and UK chuck,  the shoulder, but the French cut it differently. Chuck steak are cut across and combine different tastes and textures which, however, if cut like the French it can provide a steak with a bigger bang for the buck.

The cut.

Talking to a butcher in the US showed me that better cuts, which are rarely seen, are available.  They include the chuck tender steak, the shoulder petite tender, the chuck eye steak, and the flat-iron steak. Despite his research, this helpful expert couldn’t give a name for a US cut like the macreus à bifteck in France.

Macreuse a bifteck on French menus:
Macreuse de Bœuf, à l'Echalote et Poivre Vert  - A macreuse pepper steak prepared with shallots and green pepper.  Controlling the taste of a dish with black pepper is not easy, so when French chefs prepare a pepper steak they prefer green pepper that allows a controllable heat.

Grilling macreuse de bœuf,

Macreuse de Bœuf Cuite 6 h, Bacon de Sanglier des Bois et Champignons Sauvages - A macreuse steak slowly cooked for six hours and prepared with bacon from a wild boar from the woods and wild mushrooms. A steak like this will have been seared on the outside and the allowed to cook at a low temperature for over six hours; the result will be a steak with all the flavor locked in and a texture that will almost melt in your mouth.  France farm-raises wild boar, and it is available all year round but this menu listing tells the diner that this is wild boar from the woods and real wild boar have a much stronger flavor. (For flavorful wild mushrooms in the season the cèpe, the French porcini mushroom fit the bill).

Wild boar populations are ever expanding, and they do not just stay in the woods and forests that cover over 25% of mainland France. At night the wild boar come out, and in addition to eating the crops in the fields they also tear the grapes from vines and you can't expect the French to allow them to consume the source of their wines.    Even though wild boar can be hunted nearly all year round their populations keep on growing and they cause over 30,000 car accidents every year that include fatalities.  To ensure consumer safety every single wild boar must have its meat tested in a government approved laboratory before it can be served in a restaurant or home and this steak dish with wild boar bacon, wild mushrooms, will be making a memorable dish.

Watch out when you are driving in the French countryside.
Photograph courtesy of Nadine.

Macreuse de Bœuf, Légumes Racines Confits – A macreuse steak accompanied by root vegetables that have been slowly cooked with a slightly sweetened wine or balsamic vinegar.  In North America and the UK, root vegetables are often overlooked or consigned to soups with only the celebrity chefs taking them out of the heirloom vegetable cupboard.  In France from the smallest restaurant to the bistros and brassieres and up on to the three-star Michelin Guide restaurants parsnips, turnips and Swedes (rutabaga)  will be on many of their menus, these are tasty vegetables and a welcome addition to the ubiquitous peas, green beans, and carrots.
Macreuse de Bœuf Sauce au Poivre et Whisky, Salade Composée, Vinaigrette au Cidre et Frites A macreuse steak prepared in a pepper and Scotch whisky sauce served with a salad made with a cider vinaigrette and French fries.

Macreuse de Bœuf, Sauce Béarnaise Purée de Panais et Legumes Grillé – A macreuse chuck steak served with Sauce Béarnaise and accompanied by a parsnip puree and grilled vegetables. Sauce Béarnaise has been topping France and the world's sauce popularity polls for nearly two-hundred years. It is one of the few sauces that may be served with steaks and roasts as well as salmon and vegetables.  In 1830 the chef Louis Françoise-Collinet took the recipe for Sauce Hollandaise, omitted the lemon juice and added white wine vinegar, shallots, chervil, and tarragon and made Sauce Béarnaise. It's the tarragon and white wine vinegar that change the Hollandaise base and supply the tang that makes us Sauce Béarnaise devotees.

Steak Tatare is often made with the macreuse à biftek
Photograph courtesy of Le journal des Femmes

Don’t waste your time looking up macreuse steaks in a dictionary because it won’t help. Macreuse in French translates as scoter and scoter is the name for a family of ducks; in today's France, the macreuse on your menus will be a steak and not a canard, a duck.   Despite that, Alexander Dumas (père) who is most well-known for his books that include the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo was also a gourmand, and in 1870 he published an over one thousand page Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, his grand dictionary of cuisine.  The wild scoter duck was very popular at the time and there are at least six recipes Alexander Dumas's dictionary.  Members of this duck family may be hunted during a one month season, but I've never seen one on a menu.

Scoter (macreuse) ducks.

If you live in France and want this tasty and economic steak read the description in the supermarket or at the butchers carefully.  There is a second cut called a macreuse à pot-au-feu which as its name describes is for stewing.  The traditional pot-au-feu includes beef, marrow bones, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, onions, potatoes, a clove-studded onion, garlic, and a bouquet garni and one of the cuts of beef will always be the macreuse à pot-au- feu. Pot-a- feus may be on menus as Baeckeoffes, Garbures and other local names where the ingredients are often pork based with beef added as an afterthought.

If you have a butcher, who does not only sell hunks of beef that he or she receives already packaged in cellophane ask what different steak cuts he or she can offer from the whole chuck and brisket, and not just the all-inclusive chuck steak. Who knows you may have found someone who knows how to cut steaks.

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Bryan G Newman

Behind the French Menu
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