Are you familiar with the different levels of doneness for beef?
While terms like “medium well” and “well done” are commonly used in English-speaking countries, they don’t always translate well into French.
To help you navigate this culinary terrain, here’s a guide to the various levels of doneness in French for beef (steak and hamburgers) and a handy chart that compares the temperature differences between steak levels in the English-speaking world vs the French-speaking world.
How to order a steak in France cooked the way you like it (and hamburgers too)
In English, there’s a standard scale of 5 different temperatures or levels of doneness for cooking steak, hamburgers, and sometimes other meats that chefs and steak eaters use.
There is also a sixth lesser-known level called Blue, or blue rare in English, but it’s not a popular choice in the English-speaking world.
|6 levels for cooking steak in English|
What is a cooking level, and how is it defined?
The terms used for the cooking levels or doneness levels for meat indicate how thoroughly meat is cooked, which corresponds directly with the core temperature of the meat, the colour, taste and texture. The longer you cook a piece of meat, the warmer the core temperature.
For instance, a well-done steak is thoroughly cooked with no pink or red and has an interior temperature of at least 158F or 70C. It will be tougher and firmer because all the fat and liquids have been cooked away.
But, no matter how streamlined this scale has become, cooking meat to your desired level of doneness isn’t an exact science.
In a busy kitchen, chefs aren’t standing over their stoves with a meat thermometer or colour chart to ensure your steak is cooked at the exact temperature that falls somewhere on the doneness scale. It’s mainly done by time, colour and sometimes by touch.
There are also differences in how to define the cooking level of a piece of meat which can vary by person, region and country.
For instance, rare in one country might be considered medium rare in another country.
There is also a bit of subjectivity when it comes to steak cooking levels. One home cook might call a pink steak medium rare, while their neighbour might look at that same piece of pink steak and call it medium.
However, there is enough overlap, and the differences are usually minimal. Keep that in mind as you read through the cooking levels of doneness and their temperatures.
There are 4 main cooking levels for beef and steak temperatures in French (levels of doneness)
– In France, eating steaks or any meat where you can order how much or little it’s been cooked is similar to English, but there are differences.
– Firstly, English terms like medium, medium rare, medium, and medium well don’t fit well into a traditional French restaurant’s vocabulary because the French use a completely different vocabulary to describe the different steak cooking levels.
– Instead of 6 cooking levels for steak, there are 4 steak cooking levels in French that French chefs and steak eaters prefer.
– While blue rare steak is not common or popular in most English-speaking countries, in France, it is.
– And lastly, while well-done steak is generally acceptable in English-speaking countries, it’s rare in France, and some think it’s an abomination to cook a good steak so thoroughly.
The 4 steak cooking levels in France and their English equivalents are:
level in French
of steak doneness
à peine saisi
|Blue rare steak||45° to 49°C
113° to 120°F
|2||Saignant||Bloody||Rare||50° to 55°C
122° to 131°F
|3||À Point||On Point / Just right||Medium Rare||55° to 60°C
131° to 140°C
|—N/A—||—N/A—||Medium||60° to 66°C
140° to 150°F
|4||Bien Cuit||Well cooked||Well Done||+70°C
Did you notice that there was no term for “medium” or “medium well ” steak in French?
**Terms in French-speaking Quebec
FYI, In French-speaking Quebec, beef cooking terms are similar but not exactly the same as in France.
You may hear these cooking-level terms in restaurants in Quebec.
Bleu – very rare, aka blue rare
Saignant – rare
à point / medium saignant / mi- saignat – medium rare
Medium – medium
Bien cuit – well done
Below is an in-depth explanation of each French cooking level term for France.
Read to the very end to learn other cooking-level terms in French that you might come across on a French restaurant menu in France, where core temperature is usually asked. (Duck, ahi tuna, etc.)
1) BLUE RARE IN FRENCH:
“Bleu” (literally “blue”)
Core Temerature : 45° to 49°C (113° to 120°F)
Ask for your steak to be cooked “bleu” ( French for blue) in France, and you’ll get an extra blood rare steak, one step above steak sashimi.
Although there is a term for this level of doneness in English, it’s called “rare blue steak,” it’s not as common in the US or the UK as it is in France.
Another way to describe rare blue steak is “à peine saisi” /Ah-pen-sayzi/, which roughly translates to “barely cooked.” You can also use this term if you want your ahi tuna seared rare, but you would never ask for your ahi tuna cooked “bleu.”
Bleu rare steak cooking time & core temperature:
Times can vary by cook and by the thickness of the steak, but in general, a rare blue steak is seared for as little as 10 to 30 seconds on each side in a very hot skillet over high heat as long as the inside remains cool and essentially raw with a core temperature that does NOT get above 50°C, about 113F.
Why do people like rare blue steak?”
Because ordering a blue rare steak doesn’t get a chance to cook long enough to melt the fatty marble of a steak, the meats used for this temperature are usually lean cuts of beef, not fatty ones.
Lean meat cuts lack fat and become tough and dry the longer it’s cooked. The more you cook meat, the more moisture is purged. Muscle fibres also contract, making the beef firmer as it cooks.
In other words, people like to order rare blue steak, which needs to be low in fat, because it stays tender and retains more of its moister and flavour.
Is it safe to eat extra rare blue steak?
Some countries don’t recommend eating rare or raw meat because it may contain pathogens. But most of the pathogens or parasites don’t penetrate dense beef. So once the outside is cooked, a very rare steak should be perfectly safe to eat.
Use your best judgment.
Another aspect of eating pathogen-free meat, rare or raw, is to eat meat from beef that’s been mainly grass-fed. Cows have evolved to digest the nutrients in the grass, but that’s not true for grain-fed cows. A mostly grass-fed cow that’s spent its life in pastures will have a healthier immune system and pose little threat to people who like eating rare or raw meat.
French consumers consider meat with hormones unhealthy and possibly dangerous, which is one of the reasons giving hormones to animals for meat production is outlawed in France and the European Union. France does not import US meat that’s been fed hormones or growth antibiotics.
Why is an extra rare steak called bleu (blue)?
Some French online sources said a very rare steak is called blue because the meat has a slightly blue tint.
However, according to the Larousse Gastonomique, an encyclopedia mainly about French gastronomy, “cooking au bleu” was originally a method of cooking Freshwater fish, especially trout.
This nearly forgotten method of cooking trout au bleu got its name from the scales, which turn a bluish colour when they come in contact with vinegar, one of the ingredients for the recipe. Somehow, this cooking term may have become tied to a rare blue steak.
Are the two terms related? I have no idea.
2) RARE STEAK IN FRENCH:
Saignant (literally means bloody)
Core temperature: 50° to 55°C (122° to 131°F)
A rare steak in French is steak “saignant,” which literally means bloody steak.
A steak saignant is cooked slightly longer than a rare blue steak but is still relatively rare. 75% of the interior is red with a thin charred crust, and the flesh is still tender and juicy.
It’s pretty common to order steaks and hamburgers with low-fat content rare (saignant).
Magret de canard, which also has low-fat content, is usually ordered saignant ( medium rare in French.) Magret de canard is the duck breast from a Moulard duck raised for its liver (foie gras.)
Saignant cooking time:
Depending on the thickness of the meat, each side should be seared for about 60 seconds to 1 minute and 30 seconds in a scorching skillet over high heat. The core temperature should reach about 50 to 55 °C (122° to 131°F)
3) MEDIUM RARE IN FRENCH
Á point (literally on point or just right)
Core Temperature: 55° to 60°C (131° to 140°C)
If you want to order a medium rare steak in French, you’ll need to ask for a steak “à apoint.”
“Cuit à point” means “cooked just right,” as in perfect and figures somewhere between medium-rare to slightly less than medium. The interior is not fully cooked and has a slightly pink interior or rosé colour.
“Á point” cooking time & core temperature:
A steak cooked “à point” is usually seared over high heat; then the temperature is lowered and cooked for about 1 minute 30 seconds per side. The core temperature shouldn’t exceed 60°C, about 140F, which is at the highest end of medium rare.
There is no medium or medium well steak in French.
In some English-speaking countries, the next level of doneness would be medium, followed by medium well, but that’s not the case in France; the terms medium and medium rare in French don’t exist. The next cooking level jumps from medium rare to well done.
- medium rare = 130°-140°F
- medium= 140°-150°F
4) WELL DONE STEAK IN FRENCH:
Bien Cuit (literally well-cooked)
Core Temperature: +70°C (+158°F)
If you want to order a well-done steak in French, you’ll need to say “bien cuit,” literally well cooked.
Bien cuit or well done is probably the least popular way for steak eaters to order their meat in France. The interior is fully cooked with no pink visible.
You’ll often hear French people complain that well-done meat is too tough, and dry and hast lost all its favour.
Sometimes cooks and steak lovers compare this level of doneness to the sole of a shoe.
- Cuisson de la semelle (cooked like a shoe sole)
- Façon semelle (Shoe sole way)
These terms idiomatically mean to cook your meat until it becomes like shoe leather.
Bien cuit cooking time & core temperature:
Depending on the thickness of the meat, each side is cooked for several minutes until cooked through. The core temperature is 70c (160 F) or more.
Don’t ever ask for your steak “bien fait”
Although “bien fait” means “well done” in French, it’s not a term used to describe cooking. Another little caveat about “bien fait” in French is it’s a term that’s usued mainly in a sarcastic way like “well done genius”. You can also use “bien fait” to describe someone who is well built like a good looking guy who is well built you might say “il est bien fait”.
Example dialogue for ordering a steak in France.
- Hello, I will take the steak and fries/crisps please. (bonjour, Je vais prendre le steak frites s’il vous plaît.)
Possible ways the server will ask how you would like your steak or hamburger cooked.
- How would you like your steak cooked? (Comment voulez vous votre steak? )
- Which cooking level? (à quelle cuisson?)
- And the cooking level? (comme cuisson?)
“cuisson,” which means “cooking” or “baking” in English, also refers to the degree to which food has been cooked, like medium rare.
- Medium rare please (à point s’il vous plaît)
- Rare please (Saignant s’il vous plaît)
- Extra rare please (Bleu s’il vous plaît)
- Well done please (Bien cuit s’il vous plaît)
Other cooking terms
In addition to bleu, saignant, à point and bien cuit, there are other French cooking levels for different types of meat and fish. Here are a few you may come across on a French menu in France.
Pink: “Rosé” (for larger cuts of meat)
Rosé is a term used for larger cuts of meat such as roasts, lamb and white meats such as pork, veal and poultry.
In some parts of France, people do use the term rosé for steaks which figures somewhere around medium, depending on who you talk to.
Seared: “Mi-cuit” (usually for fish)
If you see the term “mi-cuit,” which means “half-cooked” or “semi-cooked, it’s a term generally used to describe the level of doneness for certain types of fish such as seared ahi tuna, aka tataki tuna.
Seared ahi tuna figures somewhere on the doneness scale between rare and medium-rare, depending on the cook.
Mi-cuit can also be used to describe the cooking level for
But we’re not done yet.
Mi-cuit is also a baking term for cakes cooked with a soft gooey center. For example, a molten chocolate cake is called “mi-cuit au chocolat.”
Pan fried: “Poêlé.”
The French word for pan, as in frying pan, is poêle /pwell/.
If you see poêlé(e) on a French menu, it means that something has been pan-fried. Technically, anything cooked in a pan is poêlé, and you’ll usually see this word as part of the directions in a recipe that requires pan frying.
Sometimes dish names include the word pan-fried poêlé(e) to describe the dish. For example, a popular dish in France, especially during the holiday season, is
Final Thoughts about ordering steaks in France
Ordering a steak à point or a hamburger saignant in France doesn’t have to be complicated.
Just remember, there are four basic ways to order how well done or rare you would like your steak or hamburger in France.
Bleu, saignant, à point and bien cuit.
For ahi tuna, mi-cuit pretty much means seared.