How to order rare, medium rare & well done steak in French!

3 steaks on a fork at different cooking temperature doneness

Do you know your steak degree of doneness levels in French? From rare steak and well done steak to seared ahi tuna steak, here’s a quick guide to help you order various types of meats the way you like them in France.

How to order a steak in France cooked the way you like it! 

French chef cooking a steak in a pan on fire

In English, there’s a standard scale of five different temperatures or levels of doneness for cooking steak (and sometimes other meats) that chefs and steak eaters use.

The five degrees of doneness in English are:
Rare
Medium Rare
Medium
Medium Well
Well Done

 

5 pieces of beef showing different degrees of doneness: rare, medium rare, medium, medium well and well done

The doneness level indicates 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. 

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 scale of doneness. It’s mainly done by time, colour and sometimes by touch. 

There are also differences in how to define the degree of doneness of a cooked piece of meat which can vary by person and by country. Rare in one country, for instance, might be considered medium-rare in another country. 

Steak doneness levels (steak temperatures in french)

Steak temperatures and doneness in French infographic

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. 

Instead of 5 levels of doneness, there are four steak cooking levels in french (levels of doneness that French chefs and steak eaters prefer. One of which is even more rare than a rare steak. Also, the terms medium, medium rare and medium well don’t fit very well into a traditional French restaurant’s vocabulary. 

The 4 steak cooking levels in French and their English equivalents are:

Steak doneness
level in French
Literal meaning in French English
Equivalent
of steak doneness
Bleu  Blue Blue rare steak 
Saignant Bloody Rare
À Point On Point / Just right Medium Rare
Bien Cuit Well cooked Well Done

Below is an in-depth explanation of each French cooking level term. Read to the very end to learn other cooking level terms in French which you might come across on a French restaurant menu in France. 

EXTRA RARE MEAT IN FRENCH:
“Bleu” (literally means blue)

/Bluh/

Slices of extra rare steak: blue rare steak on a wooden chopping board.

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 in English, there is a term for this level of doneness, it’s called “blue rare steak,” it’s not as common in the US or the UK as it is in France. 

Another way to describe blue rare 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. 

Why do people like blue rare steak?”

 Lean cuts of meat lack fat, which contributes to their reputation for being tough and dry the longer it’s cooked. The more you cook meat, the more moisture is purged. Muscle fibres also contract, making the meat firmer as it cooks.

In other words, people like to order blue rare steak, low in fat, because it stays tender and retains more of its moister and flavour. 

Bleu rare steak cooking time & core temperature:

Rare blue steak is seared for about 20 to 30 seconds on each side in a very hot skillet over high heat. Thicker meats might need to be cooked longer. Either way, the inside remains cool and essentially raw with a core temperature that does NOT get above 50°C, about 113F. 

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 meat. So once the outside is cooked, a very rare steak should be perfectly safe to eat. Use your best judgement. 

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 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. France does not import US meat that’s been fed hormones. 

Why is an extra rare steak called bleu (blue)? 

Some 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 became tied to a very rare blue steak. Are the two terms related? I have no idea? 

RARE MEAT IN FRENCH:
Saignant (literally means bloody)

/Sayn-yanh/

rare or steak saignant being cut into slices on cutting bord

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 it’s still relatively rare. 75% of the interior is red with a thin charred crust, and the flesh is still tender and juicy. 

It’s fairly 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 or medium rare also. see next section for 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, the outside should be seared for about 60 seconds to 1 minute and 30 seconds on each side in a very hot skillet over high heat. The core temperature should reach about 50 to 55 °C   (122° to 131°F)

MEDIUM RARE MEAT IN FRENCH:
Á point (literally on point or just right)

/Ahh-pwoinh/

slices of medium rare steak on slate board with parsley and tomatoes

If you would like to order a medium rare steak, 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:

Steak is usually seared over high heat, then the temperature is lowered and cooked for a total of about 1 minute 30 seconds per side. The core temperature does not go above 60°C, about 140F. 

WELL DONE MEAT IN FRENCH:
Bien Cuit (literally well cooked)

/bee-yen Kwee/

man holding knife slicing well done pieice of meat on chopping board

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 the well-done meat is too tough, too dry and that it’s 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 throughout 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”. 

Other cooking terms

In addition to bleu, saignant, à point and bien cuit, there are other French cooking terms used to describe different cooking levels in french or levels of doneness. Here are a few that you may come across on a French menu in France. 

Mi-cuit

/mee-kwee/

seared ahi tuna on black risotto

If you see the term “mi-cuit”, which literally means “half-cooked” or “semi-cooked, it’s usually a term used to describe the level of doneness for seared ahi tuna, aka tataki tuna.

For seared ahi tuna, it 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 foie gras. 

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 chocolate. 

Poêlé

seared foie gras

The french word for pan, as in frying pan, is une 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 foie gras poêlé which is basically a thick piece of pan-seared foie gras seasoned with salt and pepper. 

Steak Tartare

Steak tartare with a raw egg on a plate with toast and small salad

Steak tartare is raw minced beef seasoned with different spices and ingredients such as capers, onions, gherkins and usually contains raw egg yolk. It’s often served with toast and a green salad in France. Although it originally referred only to ground beef and ground horse meat, you can now order a variety of meats à la tartare, including fish tartare such as salmon and tuna. 

If you’re wondering what the word “tartare” means, it doesn’t have a clear origin.  

Some sources say steak tartare first appeared in France around the 20th century in Grand hotels, but it was called “Beefsteack a l’Americaine” or “steak à l’Americaine.” No one knows for sure why it was called “Americaine” although some people seem to think it was created in the US around 1889. I’m not so sure about that. 

Around the time this dish first showed up in Paris, tarter sauce had already been invented. Sometimes steak a l’Americaine was served with a side of tarter sauce. At the time, anything served with tarter sauce was called “à la tartare.” Alexandre Dumas even mentioned “goat à la tartare” in 1846 in his book “The Count of Monte Cristo.” And in 1850, Honoré de Balzac also mentions “Eel à la tartare?”

Over time, the version of “steak à l’Americaine” served with a side of tarter sauce was replaced by the shorter term steak tartare. Ironically, steak tartar is called filet américain in the French-speaking part of Belgium. 

These days, steak tartare is never served with a tartar sauce that I know of. 

Another legend around steak tartar is that it was named after the nomadic Mongolians and Turks, collectively known as the “Tatar people,” who ate raw meat. 

Final Thoughts

Ordering a steak à point or a hamburger saignant in France doesn’t have to be complicated. Just remember, there are 4 basic ways to order how well done or rare you would like your steak and magret de canard cooked in France. 

Bleu, saignant, à point and bien cuit.  

For ahi tuna, mi-cuit pretty much means seared. 

Example dialogue for ordering a steak in France.

Hello, I will take the steak and fries/crisps (bonjour, Je vais prendre le steak frites s’il vous plaît.)

  1. Comment voulez vous votre steak? (how would you like your steak cooked?)
  2. à quelle cuisson? (which way would you like it cooked?).
  3. comme cuisson? (cooking level/doneness?)

Bonne dégustation!

Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I’m A Bilingual North American With Thai And French Canadian Roots Who's Been Living In The South Of France For Over 10 Years. I Love Writing Weird, Wonderful, Interesting, Forgotten, And Fascinating Articles For Intellectually Curious People Amazed By France, French Culture, And World Travel.

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