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An entrée (// // AHN-tray; French: [ɑ̃tʁe]) in modern French table service and that of much of the English-speaking world (apart from the United States and parts of Canada) is a dish served before the main course of a meal; it may be the first dish served, or it may follow a soup or other small dish or dishes. In the United States and parts of Canada, an entrée is the main dish or the only dish of a meal.
Historically, the entrée was one of the eight stages of the “Classical Order” of formal French table service of the 18th and 19th centuries. It formed a part of the “first service” of the meal, consisting of potage, hors d’œuvre, entrée, and relevé. The “second service” consisted of roast, salad, and entremets (the entremets sometimes being separated into a “third service” of their own); and the final service consisted of dessert.:3-11 :13-25 :18-23
Origin of the term in the 16th century
The word “entrée” as a culinary term first appeared in print around 1536, in the Petit traicte auquel verrez la maniere de faire cuisine, :13-17  in a short section titled “Here is what is needed to make a banquet or wedding after Easter" ("C’est que fault pour fair ung banquet ou nopces apres pasques").:210 Each of the menus that follow begins with “Bon pain, Bon vin” (Good bread, Good wine) followed by a list of dishes grouped under a series of four headings, which mark the four stages of the meal.
The headings “Entree de table” (Entrance to the table) and “Issue de table” (Departure from the table) describe the first and last stages of a meal; these are organizing words, “describing the structure of a meal rather than the food itself”.:22 Between these two stages are, first, a single group of Potaiges (any sort of food cooked in a pot) and then one or more Services de rost (separate presentations of roasted meat); the terms potaiges and rost describe cooking techniques without specific reference to the order of the dishes in the meal. These four stages of the meal—entree de table, potaiges, service(s) de rost, issue de table—appear consistently in this order in all the menus of this family of cookbooks.
While the Livre fort does not discuss the ingredients or cooking techniques appropriate to the entree de table, several dishes in the menus are found only in this stage of the meal: sausages, offal, and raw watery fruits (oranges, plums, peaches, apricots, and grapes, but not the raw “dry” fruits characteristic of the Issue de table: apples, pears, and medlars). These are apparently characteristic of the entree de table of the 16th century and perhaps the 15th as well. Other dishes appear both in the entrée de table and in other stages of the meal, such as venison cooked in various ways (potaiges and rost services) and savory pies and sauced meat dishes (rost services).:66-69 :109-112 This distribution of dishes is very similar to that of the menus of the Ménagier de Paris:257-265 :174-184 of 150 years earlier.
The entrée in the 17th century
The stages of the meal underwent several significant changes between the mid-16th and mid-17th century. The entrée became the second stage of the meal, and potage became the first. The roast retained its position after these two stages, and salad was routinely mentioned as its accompaniment. Entremets came to be recognized as a distinct stage of the meal, served with or after the roast. And the final stage of the meal was increasingly called dessert, consisting of foods not from the kitchen, but from the storeroom, “de l’office” (fresh and preserved fruits, nuts, cheese, and other dairy dishes). This new order of table service—potage, entrée, roast (with salad), entremets, and dessert—was presented in French cookbooks of the second half of the 17th century as if it were already well-established practice; the reasons for and history of these changes are not explained in any contemporary source. :31,59,71-73 :58,99,116-119
At this point, the term “entrée” had lost its literal meaning, though by the end of the 17th century, this may have been somewhat obscured by the way in which the stages of the meal were presented. François Pierre de La Varenne, writing in the 1650s, includes no information on table service in his books.    Other writers from the 1650s and 1660s (Nicolas de Bonnefons:373-384 and Pierre de Lune,) present the potages and entrées and every other stage of the meal in separate services. But by the 1690s, culinary writers (François Massialot,:1-88 Nicolas Audiger,:5-8 and "L.S.R.":34-64) were combining the potages and entrées together in a single service; followed by the roast and entremets, either together in a single service (as is Massialot and Audiger) or separately (as in L.S.R.); ending with dessert, always served separately.
The cookbooks of the period do not discuss directly the composition of the dishes for each stage of the meal. As in the Livre fort, the terms “potage” and “roast” have obvious culinary meanings, but without any indication of appropriate ingredients. The terms “entrée” and “entremets” imply nothing of preparation or ingredients. Yet entrées and the dishes of the other stages of the meal can be distinguished from each other by certain characteristics, such as their ingredients, cooking methods, and serving temperature.:21 :41-42
Appropriate ingredients for entrées on meat days included most butchers’ meats (but not ham or joints of pork, which are reserved for entremets), fowl, furred and feathered game, and offal.
Of these, butchers’ meats were particularly characteristic of entrées. While in the 17th and early-18th century, butchers' meats were also common as roasts, by the mid-18th century, they were served almost exclusively as entrées; they were rarely served as entremets. Suckling pig, uniquely, may be served as entrée, roast, or entremets.
Fowl and feathered game were primarily (but not exclusively) served as roasts, less frequently as entrées; furred game was more frequently served as an entrée, less frequently as roast. Fowl and game were only rarely served as entremets.
Offal (of any sort) and sausages and forcemeats (of any meat, fowl, or game, including pork) were equally common as entrées (always served hot) and entremets (usually served cold); they were not served as roasts.
Vegetables often made up part of the sauce or garnish, but entrées were always meat dishes; vegetable dishes were served only as entremets.
On lean days, fish and eggs replaced meat and fowl in every stage of the meal; and on these days, eggs did appear as entrées. Fish for entrées was generally served sliced or in filets, since poached whole fish was the usual replacement for the meats of the roast course. There were no distinctions between types of fish or shellfish as there were among the ingredients on meat days. Even on lean days, few entrées were composed only of vegetables.:32-43 :59-79
In a notable change from the practice of earlier centuries, raw fruit was no longer served as an entrée, even on lean days.
Moist cooking methods were characteristic of this stage of the meal, typical preparations being sautés, ragoûts, fricassées, marinades, étouffades, daubes, civets, and terrines. Meat or fowl (but not fish) might be roasted, but it was first wrapped in paper, or stuffed with a forcemeat, or barded with herbs or anchovies, or finished in a sauce, or prepared in some other way to keep the dish from browning and crisping like a true roast. Savory tourtes and pastries were baked in dry heat, but the enclosed meat cooked in its own steam and juices. :12-15 :28-32
All entrées were served hot, and this was a salient feature of entrées until the 19th century. In contrast, any entrée brought to room temperature or chilled was served as an entremets.:25-30 :50-58 
Marie-Antoine Carême explained for a French readership the order of courses in the state dinner à la russe served for Tsar Alexander I's review of his troops in 1815, at an isolated location far from Paris, under trying circumstances:
Russian service is carried out rapidly and warmly; first, oysters are served; after the soup, hors d'oeuvres; then the large joint of meat; then the entrées of fish, fowl, game, meat, and the entremets of vegetables; then the roast meat with salad. The service ends with the desserts: jellies, creams and soufflés.
In Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, bills of fare for a grand dinner for eighteen follow two kinds of fish and two kinds of soup with four entrées: ris de veau, poulet à la Marengo, côtelettes de porc, and ragoût of lobster. Guests were not expected to eat of each dish, for the entrées were followed by a second course and a third course, of game and fruit.
In 1961 Julia Child and her co-authors outlined the character of such entrées, which—when they did not precede a roast—might serve as the main course of a luncheon, in a chapter of "Entrées and Luncheon Dishes" that included quiches, tarts and gratins, soufflés and timbales, gnocchi, quenelles, and crêpes.
In 1970, Richard Olney, an American living in Paris, gave the place of the entrée in a French full menu: "A dinner that begins with a soup and runs through a fish course, an entrée, a sorbet, a roast, salad, cheese and dessert, and that may be accompanied by from three to six wines, presents a special problem of orchestration".
An entrée is more substantial than hors d'œuvres and better thought of as a half-sized version of a main course. Restaurant menus will sometimes offer the same dish in different-sized servings as both entrée and main course.
The entrée in modern French cuisine
In traditional French haute cuisine, the entrée preceded a larger dish known as the relevé, which "replaces" or "relieves" it, an obsolete term in modern cooking, but still used as late as 1921 in Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire.
In France, the modern restaurant menu meaning of "entrée" is the course that precedes the main course in a three-course meal, i.e. the course which in British usage is often called the "starter" and in American usage the "appetizer". Thus a typical modern French three-course meal in a restaurant consists of "entrée" (first course, starter (UK), appetizer (U.S.)) followed by the "plat" or "plat principal" (the main course) and then dessert or cheese. This procession is commonly found in prix fixe menus.
- Oxford Dictionaries
- Such a meal is variously called a repas reglé, repas d’apparat, repas de cérémonie, dîner d’apparat, dîner de cérémonie, dîner d’etiquette.
- Flandrin, Jean-Louis (2007). Arranging the Meal: A History of Table Service in France (California Studies in Food and Culture). Translated by Julie E. Johnson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0520238855.
- Flandrin, Jean-Louis (2002). L’Ordre des Mets. Paris: Éditions Odile Jacob. ISBN 978-2738110527.
- Grimod de La Reynière, Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent (1806). Almanach des Gourmands, Troisième Année (2nd ed.). Paris: Chez Maradan. Retrieved 2017-10-10.
- Hyman, Philip; Mary Hyman (1992). "Les livres de cuisine et le commerce des recettes en France aux XVe et XVIe siècles". In Carol Lambert. Du manuscrit à la table. Montreal, Canada: Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal. pp. 59–68. ISBN 978-2852037076.
- Tomasik, Timothy J.; Ken Albala (2014). The Most Excellent Book of Cookery: An Edition and Translation of the sixteenth-century Livre fort excellent de Cuysine. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books. ISBN 978-1903018965.
- The only surviving copy of the Petit traicte is in private hands, but its contents are accessible in 27 books and editions of the 16th and early 17th century that include all or part of its text. Timothy J. Tomasik and Ken Albala have prepared a critical edition and translation of one of these books, the Livre fort excellent de cuysine of 1555, a “representative of the body of cookbooks published by Pierre Sergent from the 1540s onward”. (Tomasik and Albala:14)
- Though the term "menu" appropriately describes the content of this section, the first appearance of that word with a specifically culinary definition is in the much later Nouveau Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 1718, volume 2, p. 50.
- Jurafsky, Dan (2014). The Language of Food. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393240832.
- Greco, Gina L.; Christine M. Rose (2009). The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Ménagier de Paris): A Medieval Household Book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801474743.
- Brereton, Georgine; Janet Ferrier (1981). Le Ménagier de Paris: A Critical Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198157489.
- Sausages and raw watery fruits are characteristic of the ‘premiere assiette’ in the menus in the Ménagier de Paris, either in their own separate service or combined with the service of potages and sauced meats. Also in the Ménagier, the separate service(s) of roasts include additional potages and sauced meats.
- In French culinary sources from the 11th century onward, the term “entremets” refers to dishes made of fine or rare ingredients or prepared with special techniques, including edible figural dishes; it does not refer to or imply dramatic spectacles and various forms of entertainment.
While recipes for entremets are prominent in the earliest French cookbooks, they were not a separate stage of the meal at the time, but rather accompaniments to the other stages, as indicated in the menus of the Ménagier de Paris of 1393.
- La Varenne, François Pierre de (1651). Le Cuisinier François. Paris: Pierre David.
- La Varenne, François Pierre de (1653). Le Pâtissier François. Paris: Jean Gaillard.
- La Varenne’s Cookery: The French Cook; The French Pastry Chef; The French Confectioner. Translated by Terence Scully. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books. 2006. ISBN 978-1903018415.
- La Varenne presents separate chapters for "potages" and "entrées", but the chapter for the stage after the entrée is not "roasts" but rather “Memoire des viandes qui se peuvent servir au Second” (“Guide to the meats that can be served at the Second [service]”). The meats of this chapter are mostly roasted, but a number of sauced meats are included as well, reminiscent of the Ménagier. (La Varenne Cuisinier: 74-84; Scully La Varenne: 189-197) "Au Second" likely refers to a second service of meat (the entrées being the first), though it could mean a literal second service that follows a first service of potages and entrées presented together. There are no menus in the book to clarify this vexing question.
- Bonnefons, Nicolas de (1654). Les Délices de la campagne. Paris: Pierre Des-Hayes.
- Lune, Pierre de (1662). Le Nouveau et Parfait Maistre d’hostel royal. Paris: Pierre David.
- Massialot, François (1691). Le Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois. Paris: Charles de Sercy.
- Audiger, Nicolas (1692). La Maison reglée. Paris: Nicolas Le Gras.
- L.S.R. (1693). L’Art de bien traiter. Lyon: Claude Bachelu.
- In accordance with church regulations of the time, the ingredients for every stage of the meal varied between “meat days” (jours gras) and “lean days” (jours maigres).
In France in the late Middle Ages, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were days of fasting and abstinence, ranging from a total fast from all food (among some monastics), to reduced meals of only vegetables (among other monastics), to abstinence from meat, fowl, meat, milk products, and eggs, but not from fish and seafood (among most of the population). These are “lean days” (jour maigres).
After the Reformation, abstinence in the Catholic Church was slackened to allow milk products, including butter and cheese (“white meats”. Eggs were routinely allowed on Wednesdays, but in France, they were also apparently common on Friday and Saturdays. Later still, lean days were reduced to Fridays only.
In Lent, even after the Reformation, abstinence from white meats was practiced in many places, though in French cookbooks after 1650, milk is common in Lenten recipes. Eggs, however, were not consumed during Lent, at least until the 19th century.
All other days of the year, even in Advent, were meat days (jours gras) for the laity.
These practices were effectively abandoned by Protestants after the Reformation, and by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council.
- Not all entremets were cold dishes; in fact, many or even most were served hot. But when any entremets was prepared with the same ingredients and cooking methods as an entree, it was commonly served chilled to distinguish it from the earlier service. Entremets also included aspics and all other dishes that were always served cold.
- Carême, Le Maître d'hôtel français, quoted in Goldstein, Darra (1995). "Russia, Carême, and the Culinary Arts". The Slavonic and East European Review. 73 (4): 691–715 [p. 695]. JSTOR 4211935.
- On-line text.
- Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simon Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 1961.
- Olney, The French Menu Cookbook 1970:22.
- Source for the meaning of entrée: universal usage on menus in France and Larousse Dictionnaire Français-Anglais / Anglais-Français, s.v. "Entrée (7)".
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