Question: What are some normal 'entrees' served at French family meals (say Sunday with the relatives) and how much time passes between the entree and the piece de resistence, the main dish?
Answer: Hi Nancy. Thanks for your question.
Entrées are not reserved just for Sunday meals in France. Many, if not
most, French family meals will begin with an entrée. You'll find all sorts of things served as an entree at a French meal. A few large classes of possibilities might be:
Salads - A salade composée can include just about any combination of fresh ingredients. These are usually a cold entrée, but you"ll find some that are served warm.
Tarts - Savory tarts might be made from eggs and cheese, but also all sorts of vegetable, meat and seafood combinations.
Mousses and Patés - Served with bread, just like the rest of the meal. Usually a cold entrée.
A Gratin - For a hot entréé, individual ramekins of different sorts of casseroles - might be seafood, vegetables, or many other things.
Terrines - Layered with different textures and flavors, these are many times a cold entrée.
Soups - If a soup is served as a starter it will usually be something fairly simple. A heavier and more complex soup or stew might serve as the main course.
If you'd like to see some more ideas and recipes, have a look here:
As to the speed of service, I don't think a lot of time would go by without the main course being served - perhaps five minutes. However, it is quite notable that French people will linger a long time over a meal, and I think after the main course there could be a longer pause
before the cheese platter was brought out. Spending two hours at the table on a Sunday afternoon meal would not be at all out of the ordinary.
Hope that helps to answer your question some.
If you are interested in further exploring French culture and food, I highly recommend this book by Stéphane Reynaud, an acclaimed French chef: