French knives don’t cut the same way
Why we are stuck all our lives with the names of the fish and meat cuts we learned as children, and not many more, is beyond me, but it seems to be the case for many people I know. I can happily talk to you about T-bone steaks and rolled rump roasts from my Iowa childhood, but ask me to tell you what a rumsteck is in English …
Even worse, I grew up thinking fish meant canned tuna. We ate that on Fridays in my Catholic household and once a year we had walleye pike from Minnesota when my dad came back from a business fishing trip. I learned about fish when I moved to Paris, where you could be forgiven for your lack of fish geography because the Saturday markets had everything and it all looked fresh to me and that mattered more than its source. But what were they called in English? Cabillaud and dorade royale and more?
Professional chefs learn these things, but here’s a bit of help for fish and meat lovers who, like me, suffer this odd form of illiteracy, which is inconvenient when you’re talking about food and wine pairings in different languages, with people from different meat cultures.
Fish names in 6 languages, fish cuts
This isn’t the only fish for the kitchen resource you’ll find online, of course, and it’s British, which won’t suit everyone, but the page on fish cuts is truly helpful in the kitchen.
This is a bit more scientific, very useful if your starting point is a name in English since it is alphabetical in this language: the Marine Conservation Society’s names for fish in five languages plus the scientific name. This list starts in Dutch, but it’s easy to skim and leave it to the seafaring Dutch, it has names in six languages plus the scientific name. I use it when I’m buying fish in Spain.
If you’re starting from French, ChefSimon describes the most popular fish used in cooking. This won’t solve all your problems; when I was looking for what dos de cabillaud might be in English – I don’t recall ever seeing a recipe or menu with a fish back – I had to dig deeper (simple cod fillet and no, not loin).
Round, rump and the pope
In beef, my sirloin is your rump, no kidding. And then there is popeseye steak, same part of the animal, the back end at the top. Try translating any of that to French in a butcher shop or supermarket. Behind the French menu offers some help (your rumsteck might be my round steak).
The Great British Chefs feature on beef cuts will make any meat lover hungry; it is very British, of course. The British National Beef Association‘s diagram of what cuts come from what part of the animal is very straightforward, if less mouthwatering. French meat cuts: even if you don’t read French you’ll be able to read the la-viande.fr diagram, useful if you’re shopping in a French store. The site provides similar information on veal, lamb and pork and more. The Swiss cut their meat differently, yet again, but it is close enough to French meat cuts to use this diagram.
You won’t often be buying American meat in Europe, presumably, but if you’re wondering about the differences, the US Meat Exporters Federation has a very good beef cuts pdf with a diagram followed by an astonishingly complete list of comparable cuts in dozens of countries. Beef short ribs in French? They don’t exist anywhere in Europe except the UK.