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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 30: Beef bourguignon

Another French classic graced my dining table this week: Beef Bourguignon. It’s a pretty simple dish. Beef, carrots, onions, garlic, bouquet garni, and plenty of wine, simmered away for a couple of hours. The end result is meltingly tender meat and a sumptuously rich sauce.

Many recipes also include mushrooms and bacon but my source recipe (from Les Recettes Faciles, by Françoise Bernard) didn’t.

I didn’t realise this dish had a bit of a reputation, as Felicity Cloake explains in the Guardian. In fact, much as she ultimately did, I found it straightforward to cook. All you really need is plenty of time. There’s no need for fancy cuts of meat, or expensive bottles of Burgundy. I cooked mine on Sunday, when I love to have a pot of something comforting bubbling away. It’s also the perfect excuse for a glass – or two – of wine to enjoy alongside.


Getting stuck into meat cut 'equivalents'

As I’ve mentioned before, ‘translating’ cuts of meat is often challenging, given differing butchery traditions in source and target countries. This time around I had my Larousse Gastronomique to hand, with the French and British cuts of beef displayed side by side. However, two of the three cuts mentioned in my source text didn’t appear: culotte and paleron.

Wordreference suggested English translations of ‘rump’ and ‘chuck stuck’ respectively. In a more general sense, culotte means knickers/pants/underpants. Given that this clothing item covers one’s rump, it seemed logical that the meat cut be named such. Both terms were confirmed by comparing French and English diagrams, at least, to the extent that you can have equivalents in this area.

‘Water’ the meat

To serve, my recipe instructed plating up the meat and then arroser avec la sauce passée. Essentially, putting some of the strained sauce on top of the meat. Arroser means to spray or sprinkle. It’s the word you use for watering plants.

In English, we talk about ‘basting’ a roasting turkey or chicken, that is, adding stock, pan drippings, or sauce to the meat as it cooks. On the face of it, the word ‘baste’ seems perfect to use here, since it involves moistening something – usually meat – by adding liquid. It’s even a word used in recipes, it’s part of the culinary semantic field. And yet, there’s something which feels not quite right about it.

The Larousse Gastronomique’s definition, indicates this action is done during cooking. In fact, I propose this is a case of the English term’s collocational range being quite restrictive (Baker, 2018). This means that we’re used to seeing it quite specific contexts, or rather, used with particular words. Spotting it outside of these narrow confines can make us double take. These sort of ‘mistakes’, if we can even go so far as calling them that, can contribute to creating a text which doesn’t read well. One which lacks ‘smoothness’ or ‘naturalness’. We may think it was penned by someone unfamiliar with the genre, someone not steeped in cooking terminology and recipe phrasing. Or perhaps a non-native speaker unable to pick up on these idiosyncrasies. Then again, sometimes these conventions can be flouted to great effect. In the end, avoiding these issues, I opted for simple phrasing, ‘spoon over the strained sauce.’

Much left unsaid

I’ve just read an interview with culinary translator Carmella Abramowitz Moreau, where she expressed her approach to adapting French recipes for an English audience. Her approach aligns with my own philosophy of adapting to the English reader's expectations regarding listing ingredients and instructions in (chrono)logical order. This is far from being the norm in French recipes. As she explains,

‘If there is an instruction at the end of the recipe telling the cook to stir in the raisins that have been soaking in rum for 24 hours, I’ll start the recipe with an instruction to soak them 24 hours ahead.'

By now, I’ve come across this sort of thing in French recipes many times, and, as Abramowitz Moreau, I'm often discombobulated by it. A few simple examples from this recipe include the instructions to spoon the strained sauce over the meat, and to boil or steam the peeled potatoes, with sauce straining or potato peeling not mentioned at any point prior. Instead, I rendered this as ‘Strain the sauce, then spoon over the meat’, and ‘Peel the potatoes, then boil or steam…’ For the potatoes, my preference would actually be to include ‘xx potatoes, peeled’ in the ingredients list, since this is something that can easily be done in advance.


The cooking went well, and there were no major problems, if you look past the slightly strangely coloured dish thanks to my purple carrots. We didn’t enjoy it any less for it, and that’s what counts.

Picture of beef bourguignon cooked

Next week

I’m planning on a delicious but fiddly sweet treat to take to a friend’s place – hopefully it turns out well!



Alfaro, D. (2019). What is basting. The Spruce Eats. Available from [Accessed 13 March 2020].

Baker, M. (2018). In Other Words: A Coursebook in Translation, 3rd ed. Abingdon: Routledge.

Bernard, F. (2015). Les recettes faciles de Françoise Bernard. Paris: Hachette Livre.

Bernstein, A. (2009). Carmella Abramowitz Moreau - linguist of the month of February 2019. Le mot juste en anglais. Available from [Accessed 13 March 2020].

Cloake, F. (2017). How to cook the perfect boeuf bourguignon. The Guardian. Available from [Accessed 13 March 2020].

Gastronomic Committee (2009). Larousse Gastronomique. London: Octopus Publishing Group. (2020). Available from [Accessed 13 March 2020].

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