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An entrée (/ˈɒ̃tr/, US also /ɒnˈtr/; French: [ɑ̃tʁe]), in modern French table service and that of much of the English-speaking world, is a dish served before the main course of a meal. Outside North America, it is generally synonymous with the terms hors d'oeuvre, appetizer, or starter. 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, the term entrée instead refers to the main dish or the only dish of a meal.[a]

Early use of the term[edit]

The word entrée as a culinary term first appears in print around 1536, in the Petit traicté auquel verrez la maniere de faire cuisine,[b] in a collection of menus[c] at the end of the book. There, the first stage of each meal is called the entree de table (entrance to the table); the second stage consists of potaiges (foods boiled or simmered "in pots"); the third consists of one or more services de rost (meat or fowl "roasted" in dry heat); and the last is the issue de table (departure from the table). These four stages of the meal appear consistently in this order in all the books that derive from the Petit traicté.[2]

The terms entree de table and issue de table are organizing words, "describing the structure of a meal rather than the food itself".[3] The terms potaiges and rost indicate cooking methods but not ingredients. The menus, though, give some idea of both the ingredients and the cooking methods that were characteristic of each stage of the meal.

Sausages, offal, and raw watery fruits (oranges, plums, peaches, apricots, and grapes) were apparently considered uniquely appropriate for starting the meal, as those foods appear only in the entree de table.[d] Other dishes considered appropriate for the entree stage also appear in later stages of the meal, such as venison cooked in various ways (in the entree, potaiges, and rost services) and savory pies and sauced meats (in the entree and rost services). The distribution of dishes is very similar to that of the menus in the Ménagier de Paris, written 150 years before the Petit traicté.[4] [e]

"Classical Order" of service[edit]

The stages of the meal underwent several significant changes between the mid-16th and mid-17th century. Notably, the entrée became the second stage of the meal and potage became the first. The term "entrée" then lost its literal meaning and came to refer to the second stage of the meal, served after the potage and before the roast, entremets, and dessert.[5]

The term "entrée" also came to refer to the type of dishes served at the entrée stage. While cookbooks and dictionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries rarely discuss the type of dishes appropriate to each stage of the meal with any specificity, 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 temperatures.[6] The distinct characteristics of the entrée were at first loosely observed, or perhaps more accurately, the "rules" were in a formative stage for several decades. By the early 18th century, though, certain ingredients and cooking methods were increasingly confined to the entrée stage of the meal.[7]

In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, entrées on meat days[f] included butchers' meats (but not ham), suckling pig, fowl, furred and feathered game, and offal. Eggs were never served as entrées on meat days; they were served only as entremets. Vegetables often made up part of the sauce or garnish, but entrées were always meat dishes; vegetable dishes were served only as entremets.[8]

On lean days, fish replaced meat and fowl in every stage of the meal. Even on lean days, few entrées were composed only of vegetables, except during Lent, when vegetable entrées ("entrées en racines", encompassing all vegetables, not just "roots") were sometimes served.[9] Eggs were commonly served as entrées on lean days out of Lent.[10]

Moist cooking methods were characteristic of the entrée stage of the meal, typical preparations being sautés, ragoûts, and fricassées. 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 pies and pastries were baked in dry heat, but the enclosed meat cooked in its own steam and juices.[11]

All entrées were served hot, and this was a salient feature of entrées until the 19th century.[12]

Large entrées, Le Bouilli, Relevés[edit]

Large joints of meat (usually beef or veal) and large whole fowl (turkey and geese) were the grandes or grosses entrées of the meal. When boiled, a joint of beef was "le bouilli", the first of the entrées consumed in the meal.[13] When roasted, whole joints and fowl were called "spit-roasted entrées" (entrées de broche), always served with a sauce to distinguish them from true roasts.[14]

In the late 18th century, the practice arose of removing the empty soup tureens and replacing them with entrées de broche or other grosses entrées; the replacement dishes were commonly called "relevés". They were the last of the entrées consumed at the meal, although they were brought to the table immediately after the potages.[15]

Small entrées[edit]

The most numerous of the entrées at any meal were the "ordinary entrées" (entrées ordinaires), consumed after the bouilli and before other grosses entrées. In composition, they were distinguished from the grosses entrées by the small size of their ingredients. Small fowl could be served whole, but large fowl and large joints of meat were cut into pieces or fillets. Despite the designation "ordinary", these entrées were much more elaborate and refined than grosses entrées.[16]

"Hors d'œuvres", which, in the late 17th century, were served at several points during the meal, were considered a type of entrée in the 18th century, but by the 19th century, they had become a distinct stage of the meal.[17]

Changes in the 19th century[edit]

In the 19th century, due at least in part to the collapse of the church’s authority in France, rules governing meat and lean days were followed irregularly. In particular, fish was commonly served on meat days, and fish became a classic relevé. Some styles of service even included a distinct "fish course".[18]

Relevés became a distinct stage of the meal, often served before the other entrées rather than after them.[19] Relevés came to include not just spit-roasted joints, but all large joints and bulky cuts of butcher’s meats and whole fish cooked in any way. Entrées, in the new sense of the term, included less bulky foods, like sliced meats and fillets of fish, fowl cooked in any way other than roasting, foie gras, meat pies, and other pastries of poultry and game.[20] After the 1820s, the bouilli was no longer routinely served at fine dinners,[21] having been replaced by a wider variety of relevés.

In a marked change from earlier practices, cold entrées became increasingly common over the course of the 19th century.[22][23]

Distinctions between the various types of entrées (grosses, grandes, de broche, relevé) had largely fallen out of use by the end of the 19th century.[24]

The entrée as a stage of a multi-course meal persisted in some circles after the Great War; but with the broad cultural transformations of the 20th century, the word lost its connection to its traditional meaning.[25]

Modern French cuisine[edit]

In France, the modern meaning of "entrée" on a restaurant menu is the small course that precedes the main course in a three-course meal,[g] 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 or starter (UK); appetizer (U.S.)), followed by the "plat" or "plat principal" (the main course), and then dessert or cheese. This sequence is commonly found in prix fixe menus.

Notes, references, and sources[edit]


  1. ^ "entrée". Trésor de la langue française informatisé. "entrée". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ The Petit traicté was published by Pierre Sargent in Paris between 1534 and 1536. Philip and Mary Hyman have identified 27 editions of this book published between 1536 and 1627, under numerous titles.[1]
  3. ^ The word "menus" appropriately describes this section of the Petit traicté, but the first appearance of "menu" with that culinary meaning is in the much later Nouveau Dictionnaire de l’Académie françoise, 1718, p. II:50.
  4. ^ Raw "dry" fruits (apples, pears, and medlars) are characteristic of the issue de table in the Petit traicté.
  5. ^ In the menus of the Ménagier, sausages and raw watery fruits are characteristic of the "premiere assiette" served at the start of the meal, either before the potages and sauced meats or, sometimes, alongside them in a large first service. Roasted meats, fowl, game, and additional potages follow, presented in a single service or, more often, in several separate services. The meal is concluded with wafers, dried and preserved fruits, and spiced wine.
  6. ^ In accordance with church regulations in force from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the ingredients for every stage of the meal varied between "meat days" (jours gras, literally "fat days"), when all foods were allowed, and "lean days" (jours maigres), when the church forbade consumption of meat and fowl but not fish. Until the 16th century, white meats (milk, cream, butter, and cheese) and eggs were additionally forbidden in Lent, but beginning in the 17th century, white meats were allowed in Lent. Beginning in the 19th century, eggs were also allowed in Lent.
  7. ^ Source for the meaning of entrée: universal usage on menus in France and Larousse Dictionnaire Français-Anglais / Anglais-Français, s.v. "Entrée (7)".


  1. ^ Hyman & Hyman 1992, pp. 66–68.
  2. ^ Tomasik 2016, pp. 239–244.
  3. ^ Jurafsky 2014, p. 22.
  4. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 66–69.
  5. ^ Flandrin 2007, p. 71.
  6. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 11, 21.
  7. ^ Flandrin 2007, p. 25.
  8. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 21–31.
  9. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 32–43.
  10. ^ Flandrin 2007, p. 23, 35.
  11. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 12–15.
  12. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 25–30.
  13. ^ Grimod de La Reynière 1804, pp. 45.
  14. ^ Grimod de La Reynière 1806, pp. 1–3.
  15. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 76–77.
  16. ^ Grimod de La Reynière 1806, pp. 3–4.
  17. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 75–76.
  18. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 91–93.
  19. ^ Flandrin 2007, pp. 101–102.
  20. ^ Blot 1868, pp. 462–63.
  21. ^ Brillat-Savarin 1826, pp. 140–41.
  22. ^ Dubois 1856, pp. 400.
  23. ^ Flandrin 2007, p. 107.
  24. ^ Escoffier 1907, p. 352.
  25. ^ Jurafsky 2014, p. 21-34.


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