Enter the entrée

Roasted pork loin on the grill

At this holiday time of the year, food is a natural topic of discussion both in-person and online. Bill and I look at a few different blogs written by Americans living in France and this week everyone was talking about the differences between the big Christmas meal in our two countries. Traditionally the French tend to have a large family meal either just before or right after midnight on Christmas Eve. It often starts with caviar and champagne followed by a variety of seafoods, escargot, foie gras, a selection of fowl, and a chocolate yule log, all accompanied by red and white wines finishing with more bubbly champagne.

Despite how very festive and tasty that late-night feast sounds,it appears that many of the American bloggers we read prefer to postpone the big meal until mid-day on December 25 citing the difficulty of sleeping after consuming so much during the previous night and into the early morning hours.

A second familiar topic found on more than one blog this week was why Americans use the word entrée (derived from the French verb for “to enter”) for that portion of the meal that the rest of the world calls something like the main course or the principle plate. According to old cookbooks, a classic French dinner started with soup, followed by hors d’oeuvres, an entrée, a roasted meat course, a cheese plate, and concluded with dessert. In that menu the entrée was a “made” dish such as a hot or cold meat pie, fish baked in a pastry, a souffle, or some other substantial course.

An etymology website suggests that in the middle of the 18th century the British started using the term entrée to describe the main course and that usage just transferred across the Atlantic to the colonies here. Perhaps, but I think a more logical reason is that after having soup and hors dóeuvres and wanting to leave room for dessert, that next course became the main course but the name never changed.

Grilled pork loin stuffed with spinach, apricots, and pistachio nuts.
Grilled pork loin stuffed with spinach, apricots, and pistachio nuts.

Whether you prefer to call it an entrée or the main, here’s a photo of the roasted stuffed pork loin we had on Christmas Day. We really mixed things up as far as the French are concerned by having a cheese plate before the meal, coffee with dessert, and bubbly wine flowing from start to finish. Oh those crazy Americans!