Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2011-05-16
France is celebrating its 50th anniversary of Beef-burgers this year. This famous dish came into existence due to an appeal made by the French army in 1961. The idea was to provide the French soldiers with an essential ration of proteins which was perfectly healthy, safe and adapted to their needs.
Today the steak haché or Beef-burger represents 25% of all beef consumed in France, 242,000 tonnes are consumed including 86,000 of which are fresh and 156,000 of which are frozen. The market is evaluated at being worth 1.62 billion Euros and it employs no less than 35,000 people.
Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec* told us that “Paradoxically the consumption of Beef-burgers is quite stable and hasn’t changed much for 20 years. The truth is that there aren’t enough Beef burgers in France and we have to import them! Why? Because we don’t produce enough red meat despite the abundance of pastures that we have - it’s incredible, but that’s the way it is. So the French have fallen back on producing industrial pork.”
The Minced Beef-burger is 100% muscle!
Wherever it is produced (in artisanal butchers or businesses regulated by veterinary services), French minced beef has to comply to strict regulations. It has to consist exclusively of muscle, and the fat around it. Offal and off-cuts are not authorized. The final product is sold in hypermarkets and supermarkets and has to be kept in cling film covered plastic recipients which includes the following information: origin, date of preparation, consume by date, weight and also the quantity of fat (between 5 and 20%), a collagen to meat protein ratio (which shouldn’t exceed 15%) and a batch number.
Fifty years after its invention, the mass produced “steak haché” or Beefburger has become the symbol of French expertise as far as food technology and traceability is concerned. However Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec points out that “the consumption of Minced Beefburgers is highest in the United States where only the back of the animal is cut into whole pieces for rib steaks, prime steaks, sirloin) all the rest is minced and goes to the fast-food chains to make hamburgers.”
Beefburgers are given the cold shoulder by the great chefs so what place do they hold in the French culinary landscape?
At the end of the 1950s Roland Barthes, in his still famous work Mythologies, described the Beef steak as being a “French asset” on a par with wine: “Beef is the quintessential meat, it is meat in its purest state and whoever consumes it assimilates bovine strength.” He affirms it as being a basic element of French culture which is fitting for the working classes and the bourgeoisie, is efficient and reasonably priced and simple and succulent. Barthes concludes that when it’s served with “patriotic” French Fries, the Beef steak is the alimentary symbol of Frenchness. So when compared with the mythic, thick and compact rare steak, equally loved by the Upper class and the Proletariat, doesn’t the minced Beef-burger come in a poor second? Isn’t it simply low standard fare for children and senior citizens?
Our Expert’s Opinion
“The advent of minced beef gave people the possibility of eating quality red meat at a reasonable price. I’m supposed to be an ‘elitist’ butcher but I dedicate every Wednesday (the French children’s day) to selling Beef-burgers, and I sell them cheaper than the local supermarket: at 7 Euros per kilo. Like this I’ve managed to popularise good quality red meat from Aubrac, Salers, Limousin and Normandy and I now welcome a general public into my butcher’s shop that used be afraid of coming here. I’m selling everything, business is booming! Also since I’m one of the last Butchers in France to buy livestock, it has turned out to be the right way to sell all my meat without wasting anything. This is all thanks to the Beef-burger!”
Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec’s advice for making the “best Beef-burger in the world”
“A good Beef-burger has to be lean with only 5 to 8% fat, so that it has some taste. However it shouldn’t contain any collagen, in other words there shouldn’t be any nervous tissue. So you have to skin the meat before mincing it. The machines are refrigerated to a temperature of 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the proliferation of bacteria and they are taken apart and cleaned every evening. Beef-burgers are a fragile product which should be consumed 3 or 4 hours after on the day of purchase.
My recipe consists of not mincing and grinding the meat but instead cutting against the fibres of the meat and making small pieces. I go by the geometry of the fibres and I cut them into little cubes, to which I add a knob of goose or duck fat which melts at 57 degrees Celsius and gives the meat a wonderful flavour.
This is how The New York Times ended up awarding me the title of Producer of the World’s Best Burger last year! When you eat this burger, you have the impression of biting into meat balls and you appreciate the tenderness, the flavour and a slight crunchiness of the meat. For the seasoning, add salt only after cooking (if you do it before it makes the burger lose its juiciness), pepper, and opt for grape seed oil rather than olive oil. If you want a tartare, take very lean, juicy meat which has matured for 10 or 15 days.
*Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec is a passionate butcher renowned for his outspoken nature. He is an exceptional craftsman who chooses the animals himself and takes care of their breeding conditions. His piece de résistance is the Prime Rib Marbled Wagyu with parsley that has a taste beyond compare!
Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec’ Butcher Shop:
Le Couteau d’argent
4, rue Maurice-Bokanowski
Tel: +33 (0)1 47 93 86 37
To sample a quality Beefburger or a rib steak that has been selected, matured and cut by Le Bourdonnec make your way to “Saint Joseph” in La Garenne-Colombes, which is a wonderful bistro of the kind that’s hard to find these days.
Le Saint Joseph
100, bd de la République
92250 La Garenne-Colombes
Tel: +33 (0)1 42 42 64 49