Carnivorous Confusion

Meat is customarily served rarer in France than in the United States, so it’s important to know how to answer when the waiter asks “Cuisson?” meaning “How would you like that done?”

The French often choose either rosé and à point, which are typically translated as medium rare or medium, but are closer to what we would consider as rare and medium rare. You may therefore wish to say bien cuit, literally “well done,” to have meat served to the American notion of medium or medium well. In order to assure that it’s well done specify très bien cuit.

Duck and game are frequently served rosé (medium rare to rare), so you must specify if you prefer them otherwise.

It is also not unusual for a Frenchman to order beef saignant, literally meaning bloody and thus truly rare, or even bleu, which gives it no more than a quick flip on the grill. Beyond that there’s steak tartare, uncooked lean ground beef mixed with raw egg yolk, to which capers, chopped onions and parsley are added to make it appear less Neanderthal.

Waiters in Paris actually often ask “Medium?” when trying to help English speakers through carnivorous confusion. But your waiter’s sense of medium and your sense of medium may be an ocean apart. (I must add from the reverse point of view that four time of five when I order beef medium rare in the U.S. it emerges overcooked.)

Finally, Americans are accustomed to eating grilled meats that are easily taken back and thrown on the grill for an extra minute or two. But French sauces, not to mention French waiters, make doing so a more awkward proposition.

You may have to suffer through a learning curve on this one.


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