I’ve a certain sympathy with this

The documentary asserts that France’s three main breeds of cattle – Blondes d’Aquitaine, Limousins and Charolaises – are tough, “athletic” animals, historically reared as beasts of burden or for milking, but not for their flesh.

On the other hand, Aberdeen Angus, Galloway, Hereford and Longhorn, when grass-fed, all have the perfect flesh for steaks thanks to marbling – veins of fat inside the muscles that produce unbeatable texture and flavour.

“We’ve only really been eating grilled meat in France for the past 30 years, whereas you rosbifs have been doing so since the 16th century and have bred cows for that very purpose, so it’s only natural you have a head start,” Mr Ribière told The Sunday Telegraph.

“Our breeds are fine for stews, boeuf bourguignon, and pot au feu as they have a lot of collagen, which is good for boiling, but little fat. A
good English roast beef can
be eaten alone, you add
nothing.”

I’ve certainly had some pretty shitty steaks in France in my time.

34 thoughts on “I’ve a certain sympathy with this”

  1. So Much for Subtlety

    On the other hand, Aberdeen Angus, Galloway, Hereford and Longhorn, when grass-fed, all have the perfect flesh for steaks thanks to marbling – veins of fat inside the muscles that produce unbeatable texture and flavour.

    The key words are “when grass-fed”. These days they feed cows everything but grass and it does affect the meat. But not much. It is hard to rear a poor-tasting steak. It is much more likely that they do not cook it well. It is much easier to ruin a good piece of meat than to tell the difference between a French breed and a British breed.

  2. Blondes d’Aquitaine make good eating, if grazed well. There’s a herd near Oakington, Cambs, which eat well.

    The best beef in the world is English Longhorn, though.

  3. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “shitty”, but I’ve had better steaks from a UK supermarket than at least a handful of otherwise-decent eateries in Bordeaux.

    I’ve always put it down to the way the meat is butchered into steaks, but it never occurred to me that they’d be using different breeds too.

  4. What got left out of the linked article is the differences between French and English butchery. The two take a completely different approach to the primal cuts. The English cut across muscle groups and the French don’t, so the result is quite a different structure in the final product.

  5. The better quality beef here is a Charolais/Angus cross and when it’s good it’s very good. I agree with SMFS that the cooking dominates over the cut of the meat. These days I go for very quick pan-frying (90–120 seconds a side at maximum heat) followed by a few minutes in a 220°C oven. I just had a superb piece of lomito (thick end of fillet) done like this.

  6. bloke (not) in spain

    @Alex B
    I’m particularly fond of tartare de boeuf. A dish I regularly eat in France but would be very cautious of ordering from an English menu. My very favourite purveyor restaurants by the cathedral in Bordeaux.
    You diss the bordelais at your peril.

  7. These are all breeds stemming from southern central or south west France. The best pasture is in Normandy and Brittany and predominantly given over to dairy production. So the tastiest animals are probably raised in herds remote from their origin.

  8. The best steak I’ve had in France was advertised as beef from Germany. That was after the mad cow panic – maybe before then they sold beef from Britain.

    There was a wonderful documentary on the Beeb about ten years ago, expelling how MinAg had, over the tears, buggered up British beef herds by bringing about cross-breeding with unsuitable continental breeds. If memory serves, it suggested that one place where you could still get unpolluted British beef breeds was Argentina.

    I’ve had excellent steak in Italy; none I’ve had in the English-speaking world has come close. In particular I’m puzzled that Americans make such a fuss about steak; they’ve evidently kept their best steaks far from my plates.

  9. I haven’t tried a steak since 1999. Stranded in Brisbane with co-workers, the decision was to go French. There was no choice. It was beef or nothing. What I hoped was a fillet steak turned out to be fillet mignon (or something like that). I left it.

    I have no problem with eating meat, but as part of the meal. Not a great lump of dead cow taking up 70% of the plate.

  10. My son had his own restaurant in France.

    His customers declared his steaks to be the best they’d eaten but he had to fool them that were NOT British by saying all his meat was EC-sourced otherwise they wouldn’t even try them.

  11. Geoff

    Yep, the French are real bigots about food. One of the attitudes which is as admired by our betters as the same attitude in England would be derided and hated.

  12. Did the French not spend a few decades eating horse? Or was that an artifact of WWI?
    The absolute best steaks in the universe come from western Canadian grass fed beasts. Don’t give me any of that Argie shoe leather or bother rhapsodizing on your old Wagyu.
    Properly killed & hung your western Canadian beast can’t be beat!

  13. I am sure that you are all right simultaneously because each of us a slightly different taste/preference. The best steaks I’ve eaten were ones I cooked myself; a very few restaurants come into the nearly-best category, the steaks I bought from Tesco because they were on “special offer” did not. You’ve got to get good beef and also cook it properly.

  14. I live in France. The general quality of beef meat, compared to the UK, is poor. Most French beef is French as BSE was a godsend to the French meat industry and I have so far seen no meat other than ‘Viande origine de France.’

    The VF quality mark took a bit of a beating when it turned out it was on ‘beef’ products which were or contained horse meat.

    Horse meat is available in most supermarkets, looks good, is lean and cheap, but tastes of practically nothing… but only marginally less so than beef.

    Also available… the sensitive look away now… are foal sausages. Not tried those… yet.

    Bœuf à rôtir is wrapped round with fat. The French traditionally do not have ovens, food being mostly boiled/pressure-cooked or pan-fried. À rôtir refers to spit roasting which is probably why it does not do well in the oven.

    My oven which allegedly has a ‘grill’ actually does not in the British sense, but has a mechanism at the back into which I can plug an instrument of medieval torture and ‘spit’ a chicken or piece of beef which rotates under the top element of the oven.

    The meat is often from dairy herds and in any case not hung in the tradition of British beef.

    Fresh lamb is only ever French, outrageously expensive and not as good as British or Irish, but frozen New Zealand lamb is available, much cheaper and better taste.

    Pork is inexpensive and excellent. Poultry is expensive and excellent, although some of it does go cheap.

  15. At steak at a local place in Crecy-la-Cappelle about 10 years ago. Great, as good as or better than we can get way out here in Western Canada. The owner told me that he had a local farmer barn-raise two beasts a year, custom feed them and slaughter them young.

  16. Dearieme>

    “In particular I’m puzzled that Americans make such a fuss about steak; they’ve evidently kept their best steaks far from my plates.”

    The problem is that they massively overcook them. They consider a ‘blue’ steak to be what we’d consider medium-rare at best. Their medium is our extra-well-done/cremated.

  17. I’ve generally found the quality of French meat to be very high, but it’s hard to compare with the UK since its a while since I shopped there. But I’d sooner order meat in a French restaurant than British. I find the French know how to cook it better, British tend to overcook meat being terrified of anything that is still pink. The Aussis are worse, cooking meat unseasoned and up marinated until it is like a Michelin tyre. If I’m looking for properly cooked meat, I’d go with French or Uzbek.

  18. “British tend to overcook meat being terrified of anything that is still pink.” You have been gone a long time.

    “The Aussis are worse, cooking meat unseasoned and up marinated until it is like a Michelin tyre.” When we lived there the dominating problem was that they didn’t hang it.

    Anyway, anyway, what does it matter? By and large lamb is far superior anyway.

  19. bloke (not) in spain

    But Tim N. The French are cooking for the French. It’s hard to see what the point is, cooking for Brits. Just boil or incinerate.

  20. @ Tim Newman
    I like my meat cooked, not raw.
    That doesn’t mean I want it overcooked. You have your own definition of “overcooked” – so do I. Fortunately I almost never had to cook for my late father-in-law whose view of well-cooked was nearer charred than my definition of “overcooked”.
    @ b(n)is
    I never boil or incinerate meat.

  21. Bloke in Germany in Taiwan

    There are so many variables it’s difficult to know where to start. Most “beef” sold these days is not, it’s unwanted dairy bulls. Fine for burgers and stews, shouldn’t be your roast dinner.

    The rest of it is on your plate within days of slaughter, if you are lucky with a week of “wet cure”. Again, fine for burgers (but not stews) and definitely not steaks, roasts and so on.

    The consumer wants cheap beef. A roastable cut of dry-cured beef (possibly from a good meat breed) starts at €50/kg and the customer does not want that. They would rather have daily burgers than infrequent quality roast meat. It is a product that the market has almost completely destroyed.

  22. So Much for Subtlety

    john gibson – “They cooked it on hot stones, and it was very good.”

    That sounds an interesting way to cook it. In my limited experience of kitchens, mainly in America, they have a machine to do the cooking. Basically like the machine that produces your toast in hotels. A revolving rack under hot lights. I have a problem with that on aesthetic grounds but if there is any way to produce better restaurant steak, it is to make a better machine to do the cooking. You would have to control the temperature – which is hard in the course of an evening – and the length of time under the grill. But what else? Humidity might be hard.

    Dave – “The problem is that they massively overcook them. They consider a ‘blue’ steak to be what we’d consider medium-rare at best.”

    Britain won’t be far behind. I mean, imagine going before a jury facing some poor single mother with six disabled children who got food poisoning in your restaurant. Now they show pictures of your rare steak, still bleeding, and ask you *how*long* was it hung for? No thanks. Not worth the risk. Charcoal it.

    dearieme – “When we lived there the dominating problem was that they didn’t hang it.”

    I think the dominant problem everywhere, even most places in Britain, is that they do not hang it properly. But you can understand that in Australia – hot country, many flies.

    bloke (not) in spain – “It’s hard to see what the point is, cooking for Brits. Just boil or incinerate.”

    Come on. That is hardly fair. It probably never was fair. It is just that the Upper Middle Class Guardian tendency tends to compare top notch French food they eat as highly paying tourists with routine dinners cooked by the mothers they hate. At most it is true that the French lower middle class takes good food far more seriously than the British lower middle class, but what the British do well, they do very well. Puddings for instance.

  23. @bloke (not) in spain:

    “My very favourite purveyor restaurants by the cathedral in Bordeaux.”

    If you can find the name, I’ll be sure to add it to places to try next time we’re there. Le Bistro du Musée, perhaps?

    “You diss the bordelais at your peril.”

    Far from it; we love the food and the people there (and the wine, naturally), but the steaks I’ve had were merely OK – they have plenty of better things to fill a meal with (parts of duck, for instance; having plucked up the courage to try them, I thoroughly enjoyed les gésiers).

    @So Much For Subtlety:

    “if there is any way to produce better restaurant steak, it is to make a better machine to do the cooking. You would have to control the temperature – which is hard in the course of an evening – and the length of time under the grill. But what else? Humidity might be hard.”

    Sous-vide to cook to the appropriate temperature (and hold at that point indefinitely, if needs be), then sear in a pan or griddle once ordered for a couple of minutes to give some caramelisation and colour to the outside surface.

  24. So Much for Subtlety

    Dave – “It’s (for once) nothing to do with fear of being sued. That’s just how Americans like their meat.”

    A lot of English-language speakers do. But the French have been educating us all for a long time. The Americans as much as the British. It is just had more success in the UK.

    “In any case, it’s an inherent risk assumed by the diner, so not something you can sue over.”

    Eating in a restaurant is not like walking into a bonfire with 40 feet high flames and then expressing surprise that you get burnt. We have a reasonable expectation that the food we buy will not poison us. And your article says that this rule applies to sports. Eating out is not a sport. None of which is all that relevant because whatever the law says, juries do odd things to sympathetic plaintiffs. Look at how John Edwards made a fortune blaming blameless doctors for cerebral palsy.

    We will get there in the end.

    diogenes – “SMFS…you need to travel…Macdonalds is not the only way to cook”

    Just out of curiosity are you looking for an argument or are you just being childish?

    And as it turns out, Burger King grills its beef. MacD’s does not. They microwave it.

    PaulB – “Most beef in the USA is corn fed. Because of their insane system of agricultural subsidies.”

    As opposed to whom precisely? Argentina, sure. Maybe even Australia. But if we are talking about Britain and France, just how do you define “insane”?

    Time to mention Edward Luttwak’s superb article on the differences between raising beef in the First World and, as he does, raising it in Bolivia. I think it is this one:

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v23/n03/edward-luttwak/sane-cows-or-bse-isnt-the-worst-of-it

    But it is reprinted in one of his collected works. The world would be a much better place if we all ate more Bolivian beef.

    Alex B – “Sous-vide to cook to the appropriate temperature (and hold at that point indefinitely, if needs be), then sear in a pan or griddle once ordered for a couple of minutes to give some caramelisation and colour to the outside surface.”

    Which is what I assume people do. But the number of things that can go wrong in that process are enormous. This is, I think, the main problem with beef. As I said. It is not breed – although the usual Fresian/Jersey-cross that makes up a lot of the British beef market does not help. Nor is it diet although I am sure that is a factor too. It is just that getting the things precisely right is a problem.

    It is not as if a good steak is cheap. Not as cheap as it should be. Nor is cooking it hard as such. It is amazing so many places cannot do it properly.

  25. Worst experience of eating in France was a resto north of Paris. My lunch of duck and prunes came with a liberal portion of wriggling worms – at the time I was living in France and was pretty fluent in frog so knew the word for worm was ver. I tried to explain this to the ancient owner who turned out to be hard of hearing, so ended up having to shout “my plate of duck is infested with worms” much to the horror of the other diners.

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