To sauce or not to sauce

SaucerMy middle-class upbringing forbade the use of anything other than a knife and fork to transport food from plate to palate. Nothing so crass for our family as mopping the plate with a piece of bread, no matter how delicious the sauce!*

Imagine my surprise on arriving in France and observing this behavior at table, whether at family occasions or in restaurants. Perfectly polite-looking people with linen napkins lightly placed on laps, tearing off bits of bread and delicately dabbing or swiping their plates, then popping the sauce-laden bread to bouche. In Italy, perhaps, this would have seemed normal. In France, it appeared indelicate. But in this, as in so many aspects of French life, my expectations were off.

‘Saucer’ means to mop up the sauce on your plate with bread. Although not considered perfect etiquette, it is accepted behavior at table in France. And a compliment to the chef.

Let’s face it: French cuisine provides ample motive and opportunity to ‘saucer.’ Everything from the humble vinaigrette to the delicately rich blanquette de veau leaves you with a puddle of liquid on your plate crying out to be consumed. And the bread stands by in waiting, a natural sponge and perfect vehicle for the task.

Even in more formal settings, there is a perfectly polite way of pulling this off. It consists in putting a small piece of bread on one’s plate and using a fork to perform the mopping.

While they value ‘la politesse,‘ the French are practical souls who see the value of not letting a wonderful sauce go to waste. And manners, in my book, are all about consideration for others. ‘Saucer’ is considerate on every count: offering compliments to the chef, cleaner plates for the kitchen crew, and no wasted bread!

How about you: do you mop or ‘sauce’ your plate?

For French speakers, here’s a thorough run down on correct behavior at table.

*Although I do remember scenes of plates being licked, to my mother’s eternal horror, on spaghetti night!

25 comments

  1. A year in Périgord · September 18, 2014

    Maybe I’m just too English for my own good. I still can’t quite manage to mop up a sauce with bread, either at home or in public.

    • MELewis · September 18, 2014

      You need to return to France and work on that. I’m sure with enough exposure you’ll break down and ‘sauce’ with the best of us!

  2. davidprosser · September 18, 2014

    Sauce or Gravy and I’m happy to lay bread on my plate to mop it up as long as I transfer it to mouth by fork rather than hand.
    As I’m the only one in the family to enjoy Onion sauce (with roast beef) I can make sure of a slight excess on my plate.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · September 18, 2014

      Cheers, David. Onion sauce with beef sounds lovely. I’ve come to enjoy eating ‘hand to mouth’ as much as the next French(wo)man but the fork saves me in polite company. Bises xx

  3. mindfulexpat · September 18, 2014

    I love to saucer at home but in public I still think it just seems rude (not too far from picking up your plate and licking it…) This is one area where the French seem a little bit hypocritical to me — they saucer but it would be a huge faux pas to cut your salad or something else equally practical. Mais pour quoi? C’est la France!

    • MELewis · September 18, 2014

      That’s true but I’m tempted to say – cherche pas à comprendre! Adjusting to life in France is like the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sounds like you’re on your way there!

      • mindfulexpat · September 18, 2014

        That’s a good way to think of it. I recently had someone else suggest that the sooner I accept that I am on Mars and my Earth logic doesn’t work here the better. 😉 The hard part is that this version of Mars looks just enough like Earth that you would really think that the logic would translate….

      • mindfulexpat · September 18, 2014

        And I’m not complaining about the saucing… I’d just also like to be able to cut my salad if the pieces are too big… 😉

      • MELewis · September 18, 2014

        That’s true – it’s a strange rule and I really can’t enlighten you as to where it comes from. I’ve often broken it as I’m no pro at folding those big leaves up neatly without spattering vinaigrette everywhere!

      • Carolyn · September 21, 2014

        Personally I hate the rule that you can’t cut your salad (I do cut mine). Can’t be a worse “faux pas” than stuffing big leaves into your mouth with sauce everywhere. The origin of this rule is apparently due to the use of silver cutlery – the vinaigrette attacks the silver although presumably a silver fork would also suffer!!

  4. Neil Lewis · September 18, 2014

    Ah I remember it well. We were in France for your wedding and I stared at my delicious extra sauce on my plate at a restaurant. You then said it was considered polite to mop up the sauce with my bread. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Btw if I toss a hunk a bread to someone at the end of the table to mop up their sauce is that called a “flying saucer”?

    • MELewis · September 18, 2014

      Ha, ha….surprised you ever left France after that! Must’ve been Mom’s spaghetti (and later Kym’s) that kept you in Canada!

  5. longviewhill · September 18, 2014

    Like you I grew up in a family that would have highly frowned on any kind of saucing in public. (The one exception might be my Dad who might mop up a beef based sauces – but only at home and only after people were starting to clear the table.) My boyfriend and his family, however, are the opposites and are saucer pros. It was a little surprising to me at first, but I am learning to roll with it. 🙂

    • MELewis · September 18, 2014

      It’s funny the cultural taboos we have growing up and then learn to rethink as adults. I’m all for being open-minded and adjusting to the time and place. When in Rome, and all that…as long as people don’t start picking their teeth (or worse)!

  6. BigLizzy · September 18, 2014

    Ummm…I lick my plates. But, that’s just me. Hahahaha! Mel, this is a great post. There is absolutely no reason to let any sauce go to waste. Who would have thought that the French are saucers. I love that country. 🙂

    • MELewis · September 18, 2014

      Quelle surprise! I can just see you in a fine French restaurant, saucing with the best of them! Glad you enjoy life to the last drop. Bises xx

  7. Colin Bisset · September 18, 2014

    I think the key here is French bread – so delicious that I have often bought a ficelle and then not bothered with anything else. A little sauce makes it even better!

    • MELewis · September 21, 2014

      Right you are. You can make a poor man’s meal of the bread but add a bit of sauce or vinaigrette and it’s fit for a king!

  8. Maison Bentley Style · September 23, 2014

    Good bread and good olive oil – even that is enough! xxx

    • MELewis · September 25, 2014

      So true, and while not traditional in France it has become trendy to offer olive oil with bread in good Italian places.

  9. 365thingsiloveaboutfrance.com · September 26, 2014

    I never knew saucer was a verb. Can it also be a noun, because I think I would be a sauceuse.

    • MELewis · September 27, 2014

      Aren’t you the saucy one! Agree it would make a great noun, Nancy, but I’m afraid it’s only a humble verb. 😉

      • MELewis · September 27, 2014

        On the other hand, perhaps I should avoid the verb, in order not to turn into a ‘saucisse’.

  10. Mélanie · October 1, 2014

    LOL of the LOL… I was shocked, too – at the beginning, but I started to “copy” saucing 34 years ago… 🙂

  11. Pingback: La Vinaigrette: All dressed up | FranceSays

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