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HOW TO PICK a starter and main course [moved from UK]

Is there any basic rules to follow when choosing a starter that will compliment the main course I cook. For example, if I was having prawns for a starter should I opt for a meatless main course, or what kind of meat should I use to follow up on a shell fish/ fish starter? Like wise if I had a chicken starter, should I skip the meat on the main? Any help is much appresiated. Brooke :-)

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  1. I usually order whatever I am in the mood for but I suppose the general rule is not to order the same exact food as your appetizer and main, so for example I wouldn't have liver pate first followed by liver and onions second, or pasta for both courses. I guess it wouldn't make much sense to have different foods prepped in the same way for both courses either so a breaded shrimp followed by a breaded chicken might not be very inspiring!

    4 Replies
    1. re: smartie

      Thank you for the quick reply and the help! I'm trying to plan a dinner to cook for my boyfriend next week. When I'm making dinner I usually only make a main course and desert, so I wasn't sure if making prawns for a starter and then following that with maybe a chicken or beef main would work.

      1. re: im_with_ana

        A beef main course would be perfectly suitable. A fish (not another shellfish though) main course would also work. Something like a halibut filet done in parchment with spears of asparagus, lemon slices, a splash of white wine, a drizzle of olive oil, salt & pepper.

        1. re: im_with_ana

          got it I think, you want to know if it's ok to have 2 proteins one for a starter and one for the main course? As long as they are different and not 2 fishes even different ones, I don't see why you can't do prawns first and chicken or beef after.

          1. re: smartie

            Why not two fish dishes, as long as they are different in taste, preperation and texture? If you go to a restaurant that specializes in seafood and fish you often have it for two or even three courses.

      2. Are there any basic rules?

        Yep, absolutely. But they differ for everyone. It depends on personal taste, what's in the fridge just about to go off, what I can shop for, etc. Simples.

        1. I agree with those who prefer different proteins. But I also like to have contrast. If the main is crispy, I like a creamy or broth starter. If the main is heavy, I want a light starter, etc.

          1. Well, you don't want to replicate, so keep that in mind. Don't serve a prawn cocktail and then a linguine with prawns, though prawns and then linguine with scallops, say, would be fine. Get the picture? Two proteins are totally acceptable for a starter and then a main course. I suggest you pick your entree first, according to your bf's taste and what you can afford to spend. Then work backwards and choose your app. Another thing to consider is contrast: you don't want to serve a rich creamy app and then a rich creamy entree - too much, and again, replication. Try to serve in a progressive way, which in this case means a lighter app. with a heavier entree - and just a suggestion? If you're serving salad, consider serving it after the entree, European-style. It's a refreshing end to the meal, and extending the courses makes it just a bit more elegeant, IMO.

            7 Replies
            1. re: mamachef

              Like me, the OP is in Britain. Like most European countries, we don't generally do a salad course except as a starter. I've often read on Chowhound about how we Europeans have a salad course after the main course - never yet seen one on a restaurant menu in any of the countries I visit. Nearest I've come is, occasionally in France, some dressed salad leaves are served on the plate with the cheese course.

              1. re: Harters

                Hi Harters!! Sorry I lumped y'all together. No offense intended. :)
                This is very interesting to me. I have friends from some countries in Europe, although admittedly NOT the UK, who would never dream of eating salad before, or with, their meal.
                Different strokes, I guess? I don't know where it originated, but these friends were from Spain and France and Italy.

                1. re: mamachef

                  Hey Marci. Places I visit most include Spain, France & Italy. You'll often see a salad as a starter on a menu (and it's always something I order at my first meal in Spain) but never as a separate later course. Maybe there are some countries (or regions of countries) that do the salad thing but I don't know where they'd be.

                  Keeping to the theme for the OP, a salad based starter is a good thing. Very versatile - light, fresh start to a meal. You can either include protein or not

                  1. re: Harters

                    I haven't had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling outside the States, Harters, so maybe that's the difference. If you look at Prima's post, she maintains, as do you that in restaurants in Europe and the Greek Isles they don't serve salad as a starter, but she has friends who do it in their homes, so that makes sense to me.
                    Oh, I eat a salad starter very frequently. When I have company, I get all pretentious and pretend I'm French and serve it after. One of my faves for a starter is good 'cress with orange vinaigrette and grilled prawns atop. W. un coupe de Champagne.

                2. re: Harters

                  Interesting. Maybe eating salad after dinner is more common when dining at home, rather than when dining in restaurants. I've often seen French, Italian and Greek friends eat salad after the main course when dining at home, but I've not seen the salad served after the main course, or listed as a course to follow the main on any menus, at any French, Greek or Italian restaurants. That being said, I've only visited a handful of regions in France, Italy and Greece, so there could be some restaurants where the salad is listed as a course to follow the main.

                  A couple weeks ago, an Italian friend returned to the buffet table at a large potluck party, after finishing his main course, to take a serving of arugula salad. He mentioned he likes finishing a big meal with salad, as a way to end his meal on a clean note, rather than a heavy one.

                  1. re: prima

                    Okay, that's a good explanation for why. Thank you.

                    1. re: prima

                      Home dining may be the answer. Apart from the UK and Ireland, I'm really only familiar with Spanish home eating where salad will generally still either be a starter or the accompaniment to a main course, rather than a separate stand-alone one.

                      In sort of similar vein, my partner likes to eat salad on the same plate as pasta. I prefer it on a separate plate (and may well eat it before the pasta, but really as a separate course).

                3. I too have no problem with two proteins and agree that it is nice to have some contrast between the two--not both creamy or tomato based or same major vegetables. However, it can be good to carry a flavor from first course to second if it is done with a light hand. I'm thinking of a first course that might have some lemon juice and a second that might include some lemon zest or vice versa. It is often suggested that you go from light to heavy and match wines to that. So if your first course is shrimp, you'd have a white/champagne. Main course of beef would have a red.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: escondido123

                    This was another thing I was thinking, about contrast vs carraying another flavour into the next course, and which was the correct or better option. So either way is fine? As long as when carrying a flavour over, its done subtly?