An entremet (or entremets, from Old French, literally meaning "between servings") is today a small dish served between courses or simply a dessert. Originally it was an elaborate form of entertainment dish common in Europe during the later part of the Middle Ages and the early modern period. An entremet could be anything from a simple frumenty (a type of wheat porridge) that was brightly colored and flavored with exotic and expensive spices to gigantic and huge, elaborate models of castles complete with wine fountains, musicians, and food modeled into allegorical scenes. By end of the Middle Ages, it had evolved almost entirely into a type of extravagant mini-plays performed at banquets, often packed with symbolism of power and regality.
HistoryDishes that were intended to be eaten as well as entertain can be traced back at least to the early Roman Empire. In his Satyricon the Roman writer Petronius describes a dish consisting of a rabbit dressed up to look like the mythical horse Pegasus. The earliest mention of a specified entremet can be found in an edition of Le Viandier, a medieval recipe collection, from ca 1300. It described a comparatively simple dish; boiled and fried chicken liver with chopped giblet with ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, wine, verjuice, beef buillon and egg yolks served with cinnamon on top, and was supposed to be of a bright yellow color. An even simpler dish, like millet boiled in milk and seasoned with saffron, was also considered to be an entremet. The most noticeable trait of the early entremets was the focus on vivid colors. Later on the entremets would take the shape of various types of illusion foods, such as peacocks or swans that were skinned, cooked, seasoned and then redressed in their original plumage (or filled with the meat of tastier fowl) or even scenes depicting contemporary human activities, such as a knight in the form of a grilled capon equipped with a paper helmet and lance, sitting on the back of a roast piglet.
Starting around 1300 the entremets began to involve not just eye-catching displays of amusing haute cuisine, but also more prominent and often highly symbolic forms of inedible entertainment. In 1306, the knighting of the son of Edward I included performances of chanson de geste in what has has been assumed to be part of the entremets. During the course of the 14th century they would often take on the character of theatrical displays, complete with props, actors, singers, mummers and dancers. At a banquet held by Charles V in honor of Emperor Charles IV in 1378, a huge wooden model of the city of Jerusalem was rolled in before the high table. Actors portraying the crusader Godfrey of Bouillon and his knights then sailed into the hall on a miniature ship and reenacted the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the level of refinement among the noble and royal courts of Europe had increased considerably, and the demands of powerful hosts and their rich dinner guests resulted in ever more complicated and elaborate creations. Chiquart, cook to Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, described an entremet entitled Castle of Love in his 15th century culinary treatise Du fait du cuisine ("On cookery"). It consisted of a giant castle model with four towers, carried in by four men. The castle contained, among other things, a roast piglet, a swan cooked and redressed in its own plumage, a roast boar's head and a pike cooked and sauced in three different ways without having been cut into pieces, all of them breathing fire. The battlements of the castle were adorned with the banners of the Duke and his guests, manned by miniature archers, and inside the castle there was a fountain that gushed rosewater and spiced wine.
- Scully, Terence (1995) The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages ISBN 0-85115-611-8
- Strong, Roy (2003) Feast: A History of Grand Eating ISBN 0-7126-6759-8
- How to Cook Medieval - A guide on how to make medieval cuisine and subtleties with modern ingredients
entremets in Swedish: entremet