Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served. Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
When you want great beef, and Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac is on the menu expect something special. From farms over 800 m. (2600’) high, for five to six months a year the Aubrac cattle are free-range on the Aubrac Plateau where they graze on grass and wild herbs and flowers. In the winter they are fed hay from the same grass and herbs that they eat in the summer; after two to three seasons on the plateau, their beef is flavored and well marbled.
The Aubrac Plateau is close to the center of southern France.
The plateau is to the South of the Massif Central where the departments of Lozère, Aveyron, and Cantal meet.
The Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac must meet yearly standard checks, unlike many wines that bear famous labels but were last checked one hundred or more years ago. For their Label Rouge IGP, (the UK PGI) the calves must be raised by their mothers until weaned and no antibiotics or growth hormones may be used. Every year there are organoleptic tests where highly trained professional tasters use their very special noses and taste buds to ensure the quality never drops.
To meet the requirement for the Label Rouge cattle, there must be at least 10,000 sq. m. (2.50 acres) for each cow and calf. This beef comes from small farms with the average herd less than 100 head including calves and bulls. Many of the farms are also AB (Agriculture Biologique) certified organic farms.
Côte de Bœuf d’Aubrac pour 2 (800 g), Frites Maison – A bone-in rib-eye steak from the Bœuf Fermier d’Aubrac for two, with 800 grams (28 ounces) including the bone, served with the restaurant’s special French Fries. The bone will take 50% of the weight served, and so each diner may expect 200 grams (7 ounces). When a menu listing reads Frites Maison that indicates the restaurant has its own particular take on French fries. Ask.
Daube de Boeuf Aubrac Label Rouge – Daube is a famous beef stew that originated in Provence. It is made with a red wine and tomato base; the vegetables and herbs depending on the time of year and the chef. When good chefs begin with good beef, they make seriously good steaks. However, with good ingredients, it is the rare gourmand who can tell one good steak from another. That is not so true for stews where it takes more than a very high temperature and a little salt and pepper to cook. A good stew takes hours of preparation at a low temperature, the herbs have to be just right, and when the meat used is not just good but seriously good then you will taste the difference.
Preparing the Daube
Photograph courtesy of Timur Saglambilek
Faux-Filet de Bœuf d’Aubrac au Poivre Noir de Kâmpôt, Lit de Fèves –A UK sirloin steak, a US strip steak. (The UK and USA sirloin are not the same cuts). This is a pepper steak made with the Kampot black pepper from Cambodia and served on a bed of fava beans, also called the Windsor or broad bean. Poivre de Kâmpôt from Cambodia is real pepper, from peppercorns, not a chili pepper, and holds a European Union IGP. Pepper enthusiasts claim its taste speaks to gourmands and of course the pepper’s origin makes the menu listing more interesting.
Pièce de Bœuf d’Aubrac Cuite au Barbecue, Panisses aux Herbes et Sauce Foyot – The butcher’s choice of unique rump steaks cooked on a barbeque and accompanied by Panisses and served with Sauce Foyot. The cut called the Piece de Bœuf, or Piece Boucher indicates the butcher’s choice and that is the name given to a few uniquely tasty cuts from the rump with only enough steaks for six to eight servings from a whole steer. A skilled French butcher knows the real value of these cuts that are overlooked and wasted outside of France,
The Panisses began as a street food in the City of Nice on the Cote d’Azur on the Mediterranean and have made it to the best restaurants. They mostly look like wide oblong fries (chips) and are made with chickpea flour, and like the best fries (chips) are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The shape of Panisses differs from street vendor to chef as each has his or her favorite. Traditionally they are offered with just a sprinkling of with salt, but now grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese may be added. The Sauce Foyot was created by adding to a Sauce Béarnaise the glazed cooking juices of roasted meats making it the perfect sauce for grilled meats. (Sauce Foyot is also called Sauce Valois).
Tartare de Bœuf d’Aubrac (Cru ou Aller-retour), Frites Maison – Steak Tartar cru, uncooked, or aller-retour, ever so lightly seared on both sides, accompanied by the restaurant’s particular take on French fries. Steak Tatar is a steak in the manner of the Tartars, the frightening fighters, the hordes, who rode to war under the direction of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. Twentieth-century folklore has the Tartar tribesmen riding to battle with raw meat under their horses’ saddles. As they rode they were said to cut off pieces of the raw meat with a knife, and eat as they rode; they only stopped riding to sleep.
Today’s Steak Tartar begins with hand-cut or ground steak. The texture is very important, and with this dish, you can really taste the meat so you do need seriously good beef and Aubrac beef fits that requirement. Despite the lack of a frying pan or grill, this may be one of the greatest steak dishes that you have ever tasted. Steak Tartar is made with tender, flavorsome steak, onion, parsley,cornichons, capers, and Cognac with Tabasco or Worcester sauce adding spice. In many recipes, a raw egg yolk will be mixed in just before serving. For those who enjoy good restaurant theater, you may an enjoy a true professional mixing the ingredients in front of you; there is no cooking involved. For the French, a Steak Tartare is a spicy dish, but for most of us, spicy French dishes are not really very spicy.
This menu listing offers a choice of the traditional uncooked (cru) Steak Tatar or very very slightly seared on the top and bottom “aller-retour”. Aller-Retour means go and come back, and when I use to travel from Paris to Lyon by train to see customers, I would order a cheap day-return train ticket known as an “aller-retour” a same day return ticket. But how did this name jump to Steak Tatar and other dishes very lightly seared on both sides? A French friend explained that for a new dish a chef must choose a name and “aller-retour” caught on. So a Steak Tatar with a go and return ticket indicates the beef pate is taken from its starting point on a plate for a very very short searing of the beef on one side and that is the “go- aller,” then the pate is flipped to the other side for the “return – retour.” This creates a Steak Tatar sandwich of different flavors and textures.
The cities of Paris and Lyon compete for the name of the center of all that is good in French Cuisine and “aller-retour” Paris-Lyon- Paris tickets are still on sale. When you visit Paris consider a side trip to Lyon for lunch, a visit to one of its three major art museums, the Bartholdi Fountain, and and then back to Paris for dinner.Travel time each way is a pleasant two to two and a half hours. Whether you try a Steak Tatar “aller-retour” in Paris or Lyon is up to you.
The Aubrac cattle were, until the French revolution, bred by monks on the Aubrac Plateau. There they were raised to pull plows and provide milk as well as meat. The cows provided the milk for the fabulous Laguiole cheese though now other breeds have taken their place and tractors replaced the Aubrac cattle pulling plows. Nevertheless, despite the changes, a few farmers still make cheese with Aubrac milk.
Aubrac beef farmers continue a tradition of “transhumance.” the seasonal movement from the winter farms and barns to the summer pastures. Every year a few thousand visitors come to watch as the herds meet near the village of Aubrac on the 25th of May when the herds with the cows and their calves begin their trek to their summer pastures. To learn more about this tradition see the website below. The Google or Bing translate programs allows the French language website to be clearly understood in English.
Restaurant Bras, one of France’s most celebrated restaurants. I do not usually name restaurants as chefs change fairly frequently and an up-to-date newspaper or magazine review is better than a post in a blog that can be around for a number of years. However, the Bras restaurant under the imaginative command of Michel Bras and his son Sébastien has held three Michelin stars for fifty years. That is just about long enough to tell me that they are doing something right and unlikely to change very soon. Michel studied under the master chef Ferdinand Point who in the 1950’s taught French chefs to throw out the heavy sauces and heating pans of Haute Cuisine. Point’s students created today’s modern French cuisine then called Nouvelle Cuisine. Those students are today, like Michel Bras, the grey-headed patriarchs of French cuisine. The Bras restaurant and its associated hotel and restaurant have an English language website:
If you are traveling to the Mediterranean and the town of Sete or Montpellier from Paris you will probably take the A71 and A75 highways. The A75 passes close to the Aubrac Plateau and Laguiole. The ThinkLink.com web page below shows Laguiole in the center and clicking on the letter “i “ will pop up websites of all the French Government Tourist Information Offices in the area.
On the menu in the region as well as many restaurants around France will be Aligot, a wonderful dish of cheese and mashed potato and garlic that is important enough to have its own post. There are purists who believe that the real aligot can only be made with a young Laguiole cheese,a local tome fraiche, or a young Cantal cheese. However, I can attest to having enjoyed, outside the region, excellent aligots made with other cheeses.
Searching for the meaning of words, names or phrases
Just add the word, words, or phrase that you are searching for to the words “Behind the French Menu” and search with Google. Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 400 articles that include over 3,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations.
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman