The Full-Course Meal and Its Components

A full-course dinner and its components is a complex and sensual affair. These complex meals often start with an amuse-bouche or appetizer, move on to the main dish(es), and end with dessert, coffee, tea, and fine spirits. Eating meals that fit this description with friends or family is a peak experience.

A meal of many courses can take place anywhere from a private house to a public venue or a restaurant and is best appreciated in the late afternoon or early evening. Diners at both fine dining establishments and more laid-back eateries can order multiple courses to be served at intervals for a leisurely, food-centered evening. Traditional multi-course meals may be more difficult to prepare, but groups of friends coming together to eat in this way is a memorable event you’ll always remember.

First of All, What Is a Meal Course?

In the context of a meal, a food course can be either a single item – a sandwich, for example – or a grouping of items, such as soup and housemade bread or steak and garlic mashed potatoes. There are normally several courses for a typical meal, in various orders. Sometimes, people like to start with a salad. Other times, soup is preferred or even a light appetizer.

How Many Courses Does a Typical Meal Consist of?

The majority of meals consist of a single serving with the components being a meat, a vegetable or vegetable medley, and a starch. A full-course meal often consists of at least 2 or 3 of the following: an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert. Meals, however, can have as many as 12 courses.

Let’s have a look at a hypothetical 12-course meal and what each of the courses might be, from hors d’oeuvres to dessert or a selection of cheeses and every potential course in between. Generally speaking, the 12-course meal is a tasting menu, presenting a showcase of the best dishes of the chef cooking as a series of small plates.

A Sample Menu for a 12-Course Meal

Possibilities for each of the 12 courses for such a full-course meal and ideas for accompanying dishes are described and elaborated upon below.

Course One

Foods that may be held in one hand while the other hand is occupied with a drink are ideal for hors d’oeuvres, usually served during cocktail hour or while guests are arriving.

Course Two

The French term amuse-bouche literally translates to “a little something to amuse the mouth.” But it can also be used more broadly to refer to any small, tasty bite served to guests.  This course of a full-course meal is intended to get your taste buds ready for the food to come and to arouse your appetite. An amuse-bouche is typically complementary and selected by the chef at a restaurant to complement the array of food you’ll be enjoying over the course of your culinary evening.

Course Three

When planning your menu, it’s traditional to include a soup course that reflects the current season. It’s best to avoid serving heavy soups involving cream and grains. Rather, a lighter broth is preferred for a full-course meal.

Course Four

Appetizers are often called by the French name entrées in Europe, where they’re served before the main courses. On our side of the Atlantic, as you’ll know, the entrée is the main event. Typically, the appetizer is a preparatory course intended to introduce the theme of the full-course meal, tying in with the dishes to come.

Course Five

The salad course consists of raw vegetables tossed in a savory dressing of oil, vinegar, and seasonings.  While salad is sometimes served after the main course in select European countries, it’s standard practice to offer it before the main course, elsewhere in Europe.

Course Six

This course of a full-course meal is generally fish. Fish or shellfish’s place in this style of menu is to present a lighter protein, easing diners into heavier items.

Course Seven

At the 7th course of the meal, the main dishes begin to be presented. Following the fish course, a poultry or game bird (chicken, duck, turkey, goose, grouse) is usually the beginning of the heavier going of the full-course meal.

Course Eight

This course of a meal is intended to clear your palate, preparing it for the next and final foray into the evening’s selection of food. A sorbet of a light fruit, herbs, or both is considered an ideal palate cleanser

Course Nine

If you’ve been wondering where the beef is, course nine is where you’ll find it. Beef, lamb, or game (venison, for example) arrive at the table during this course.

Course Ten

This stage of your full-course meal is where diners enjoy a selection of cheeses. The intention is to go beyond the expected, offering something unusual and exceptionally fine for diners to savor, perhaps with fruit.

Course Eleven

A sweet, decadent dessert for this course of a meal is usually served with coffee, tea, and/or dessert wine.

Course Twelve

Here’s where you bust out the port, brandy, scotch, or cognac. A miniature dessert like a rich, dark chocolate truffle or a petit four (tiny pastry) is called the “mignardise” (miniature dessert).

Culinary Happenings With Food Fire + Knives

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Published By Shamira Deshpande Shamira is a passionate Social Media Manager and avid foodie who brings creativity and enthusiasm to every project. With 7+ years of experience in the social media management field, she is responsible for creative strategy development and implementation, content creation, optimizing campaigns, and analysis of social media performance for Food Fire + Knives.