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What Is an Entree? | Entree Definition and Examples

By
Matthew Krimmel
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An entree is the main dish served at a typical three-course meal in North America. Diners eat it after an appetizer and before a dessert menu item. Most people regard it as the most vital part of the dinner.

However, in France and other parts of the world, it's synonymous with an appetizer, an hors d'oeuvre, or a starter. Why is there a difference in meaning between the various cultures? Read on to learn the reasons and some historical facts.

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Etymology

Origins

"Entrée" originated in old French and became the Middle English "entre," which proceeded into Modern English as "entry" in the 13th century. "Entrée" was again borrowed from French in the 18th century without changing the word or meaning.

Evolving Culinary Tastes And Styles

During this time in Great Britain, culinary tastes and styles were evolving. Full-course meals became common, and fine dining became an extended affair, including soup, fish, meat, and dessert courses. But there were also side dishes, salad, and cheese courses served during the meal.

A small dish was made from several ingredients, garnished, and sauced. It often followed fish and preceded meat in the typical sequence. It gained the name "entrée" because people ate it before the meat portion. Essentially, it was the "entrance" to the most vital part of the full-course meal. English dining habits gradually became less formal, and diners consumed fewer courses.

Coming to America

At the end of the 19th century, French chefs brought the term "entrée" to upscale New York dining venues. During this era, some restaurants served as many as fifteen courses for meals in the United States.

Restaurants and hotels led the practice of calling the main course an entree. Nowadays, it appears regularly on different menu types when dining out in North America.

How Do You Spell Entree?

It's spelled entrée in France and entree in North America. In France, they continue to use the accent mark above the first e, written as entrée. In the United States, the accent isn't usual on menus.

American Entrees

Meat

Many popular entrees in American dining are dishes with meat, including beef, chicken, pork, and turkey (learn more about the best wine to pair with turkey). They are large dishes that make up the bulk of a meal and completely satisfy the diner's hunger.

Some options with meat can still work on a smaller scale as appetizers. Chicken chopped into smaller pieces can be part of an appetizer dish like chicken quesadillas.

Seafood

Seafood entrees can also work in small or large portions for either an appetizer list (or something on a menu fitting the a la carte meaning) or as part of the main dish. Lobster, pasta with shrimp, and smoked salmon are excellent choices for the main course section of your menu (learn more about what wine pairs with salmon). Calamari fritters, curried scallops, and steamed clams are three dishes to add as delicious appetizers to your menu.

Vegetables

Vegetables work well as an alternative to meat for vegetarians or people who want a healthier option. Almost any entree that uses meat and fish can also work as a vegetarian option. It includes vegetarian egg rolls, stuffed peppers, and chili.

Here are ten popular American entrees or main courses:

  1. Baked, fried, or grilled chicken with a baked potato and green beans are frequent items on American menus.
  2. Baked fish, including cod, grouper, or tilapia, and grilled fish like salmon, swordfish, and tuna. They're perfect with rice pilaf, tartar sauce, or vegetable skewers.
  3. A breakfast burrito includes scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, and onions wrapped in a flour tortilla burrito.
  4. A grilled cheese sandwich is an American classic with grilled bread, cheese, and ham.
  5. Jambalaya is a classic Southern American dish best served with parsley, spring onions, and tarragon.
  6. Meatloaf and a side of roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, or sweet potato fries is a classic item.
  7. Pasta varieties, including spaghetti bolognaise, fettuccine alfredo, lasagna, and ravioli.
  8. Pork chops, accompanied by mashed potatoes and a vegetable side of asparagus, broccoli, or squash.
  9. Steak in its various cuts, such as filet mignon, rib eye, or sirloin, goes well with a baked potato and a side of vegetables.
  10. Turkey pot pie contains chunks of turkey baked inside a pie with carrots, corn, and peas.

French Entrées

Modern French Dining

In French dining, l'entrée still refers to the menu item that precedes the main dish in a three-course meal. Nowadays, French diners still use entrée to refer to an appetizer or a starter and use "plat principal" to describe the main course.

The modern American three-course meal of an appetizer, entree, and dessert understandably confuses visitors from France.

Here are ten popular French entrées or appetizers:

  1. Bœuf bourguignon is a stew made from beef braised in beef broth, seasoned vegetables, and red wine from Burgundy.
  2. Bouillabaisse is a classic French soup with chili, orange, saffron, and thyme.
  3. Cassoulet is a traditional French stew with white beans and meat. It's typically duck or pork with sausages, mutton, and goose often added to the mix.
  4. Confit de canard is a dish of duck marinated in garlic, salt, and thyme for around 36 hours. Then slowly cook it in its fat at low temperatures.
  5. Coq au vin, meaning "rooster in wine," is chicken braised with mushrooms, onions, garlic, bacon, and typically a wine from Burgundy.
  6. Croque monsieur is essentially a ham and cheese toastie.
  7. Flamiche has a puff pastry crust filled with cheese and vegetables. It's usually filled with cream and leeks.
  8. Ratatouille is a dish with shallow-fried vegetables layered in a casserole before getting baked in the oven.
  9. Salade Niçoise is a salad mix of lettuce, tomatoes, boiled eggs, anchovies, tuna, green beans, and Nicoise Cailletier olives.
  10. Soupe à l'oignon is a French soup with beef stock and onions, usually served with croutons and topped with melted cheese.
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Entree And Entrée

Now you know the definition, etymology, and history of entree and entrée. If you're in New York, stop into a local restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious three-course meal. Sample a classic American main course, or an entree, with a side and a refreshing drink.

And next time you're in Paris, ask locals to recommend a good restaurant or café. There you can sample an appetizer, or entrée, and enjoy some traditional French cuisine with a glass of wine.