14th-Century Blank Maunger (Chicken and Rice)

A COOK they hadde with hem for the nones,
To boille the chiknes with the mary-bones,
And poudre-marchant tart, and galingale.
Wel coude he knowe a draughte of London ale.
He coude roste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shine a mormal hadde he;
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.
– From The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue: The Cook

This medieval rice dish was so popular it’s no surprise it was mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer, the great “Bard of the Middle Ages.” Blankmanger was known internationally throughout Europe, from England to Portugal and from Germany to Spain and everywhere in between. Nearly every period cookbook contains at least one recipe.

This dish went by many names: Blank Maunger, Blawmanger, Blomanger (English), blanc mengier (French, Flemish), biancomangiare (Italian), manjar blanch (Catalan), manjar branquo (Portuguese), albus cibus (Latin), among others.

BUT you may now know it by the name blancmange, though the modern “traditional” version bears very little resemblance to its ancient ancestor.

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From Chicken Casserole to Pudding: The Evolution of Blancmange

There is no clear or precise record of when this dish was invented, though some sources suggest it might have roots in 8th or 9th century Tarragona (Catalonia). Simply named “white dish,” it spread quickly throughout Europe and parts of the Islamic world, usually taking on forms of the French title blanc mengier. There is another lesser known theory, however, that “white dish” was a mistranslation from French blant mengier meaning “bland dish,” since it was often served to the infirm and wasn’t always white.

The earliest versions of this recipe call for rice, almond milk and white meat like chicken and capon or pike on meatless “fysch” days. Depending on where you were, the almond milk might be made the usual way with almonds and sweetened water, but was also made savory by steeping the almonds in chicken stock instead. The meat was usually poached and either added directly to the rice during the cooking process or mixed in before serving. The French version was usually less sweet than that of the English, who also liked to garnish with toasted almonds. Italians added rosewater, spices like ginger and cinnamon, or rice flour and Germans were known to color it with violets.

Rice was a luxury item imported from the Middle East and later grown in Italy and Spain, so in the 14th century it was typically only enjoyed by the upper classes who could afford the ingredients. Because of blank maunger’s health properties, soft texture and gentleness on the stomach, it was originally associated with invalids or with people who had special dietary needs. Due to their sedentary lifestyles, nobles were often more likely to be infirm or prescribed soft-food diets by court dietitians. But as court chefs were known to do, they found ways to elevate basic dishes by making them appear fancier than they really were.

Entremets and Subtleties

Woven into medieval courtly dining traditions was a strong element of theatrical artistry. In the kitchen the theatrics might come in the form of coloring food, serving “mock” dishes (food prepared to look like something else), or doing something a bit more flamboyant like decorating food with swan or peacock feathers or sewing the top half of a pig to the bottom half of a rooster (cockentrice).

Some entremets (“between courses”) and subtleties like sugar sculptures were more like table decorations, but most were intended to be eaten. It was edible entertainment! Blanc mengier was one of these entremets, especially in France and Germany, and simple enough for a beginner chef to pull off. The rice might be colored gold with saffron, or some other color using violets, sandalwood or other food colorant.

In the French cookery book Le Viandier de Taillevent, a recipe for blanc mengier party divides it into three parts: one part dyed red, another blue, and the third left white or cook’s choice. Then it was put back together and served as one multi-colored dish.

The Meat and Rice Disappear

Over time, the dish became sweeter and fancier and by the 17th century some recipes were using the meat a bit differently or daring to leave it out entirely. In 1660, a recipe in The Acomplisht Cook suggests making blancmange more like a jelly. Gelatin stock was made with boiled capon feet and calf’s hoof, then combined with a blend of ground almonds, rosewater and breadcrumbs.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the simple, hearty dish gradually became a new dainty one containing cream, almonds, sugar and spices and left to stand and set in cups. Some were thickened with rice flour, cornstarch, eggs, or even isinglass. Since the blancmange was already plenty thick with the use of these other ingredients, imported rice was no longer required. And sugar was now far more affordable! A large variety of cookbooks were available to the rising middle class, so even a determined housewife or well-to-do home cook could try her hand at one of the many new variations.

By the 19th century what was once a sweet almond, chicken and rice casserole had become a full-blown dessert. There was no trace of chicken and rice whatsoever. Sweet cream, almond extract, spices and gelatin were set in actual blancmange molds to jiggle on the plate. And to think, instant blancmange now comes in flavored packets!


Blank Maunger

I created this recipe a couple years ago for my medieval cookery class and the feedback from students was positive. It can be as sweet or savory as you would like, though it should be sweeter than what your modern palate would normally expect with chicken and rice.

My recipe is a combination of two English recipes found in the Forme of Cury. The recipes are near-identical except one uses sweetened almond milk and the other uses savory (chicken broth). The suggested garnishes are also slightly different, with one being quite plain and the other topped with anise and almonds.

The image below is from a 1390 English collection called The Forme of Cury. It is one of five blank maunger/blomanger recipes found in the manuscript.

 

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From English MS 7 25r. University of Manchester Library

Blank Maunger. XXXVI. Take Capouns and seeþ hem, þenne take hem up. take Almandes blaunched. grynd hem and alay hem up with the same broth. cast the mylk in a pot. waisshe rys and do þerto and lat it seeþ. þanne take brawn of Capouns teere it small and do þerto. take white grece sugur and salt and cast þerinne. lat it seeþ. þenne messe it forth and florissh it with aneys in confyt rede oþer whyt. and with Almaundes fryed in oyle. and serue it forth.

Blank Maunger. Take capons and boil them, then take them up. Take blanched almonds, grind them and combine them with the same broth. Put the milk in a pot. Wash rice and add and let it cook. Then take meat of capons, tear it small and add. Take white grease sugar and salt and cast therein. Let it cook. Then mess it forth and garnish it with anise in comfit red or white (sugared anise seeds) and with almonds fried in oil and serve it forth.

For to Make Blank Maunger XXIXXII. Put Rys in water al a nyzt and at morowe waisshe hem clene, afterward put hem to þe fyre fort þey berst & not to myche. ssithen take brawn of Capouns, or of hennes. soden & drawe it smale. after take mylke of Almandes. and put in to þe Ryys & boile it. and whan it is yboiled put in þe brawn & alye it þerwith. þat it be wel chargeaunt and mung it fynelich’ wel þat it sit not to þe pot. and whan it is ynowz & chargeaunt. do þerto sugur gode part, put þerin almandes. fryed in white grece. & dresse it forth. 

To Make Blank Maunger. Put rice in water in the night and in the morning wash them clean, afterward put them on the strong fire until they burst but not too much. Then take meat of capons, or of hens. Cut them small. After take milk of almonds and put in the rice and boil it. And when it is boiled put in the meat and cook so that it will be very thick and stir very well that it does not stick to the pot. And when it is done and thick, add a good part of sugar, put in almonds fried in white grease and dress it forth.

Here is a bonus English recipe from the 14th century MS Sloane 468 known as Utilis Coquinario:

28. Blawmanger. Tak the two del of rys, the thridde pert of almoundes; wash clene the rys in leuk water & turne & seth hem til thay breke & lat it kele, & & tak the melk & do it to the rys & boyle hem togedere. & do therto whit gres & braun of hennes grounde smale, & stere it wel, & salte it & dresch it in disches. & frye almaundes in fresch gres til they be browne, & set hem in the dissches, & strawe theron sugre & serue it forth

28. Blawmanger. Take two portions of rice, the third part of almonds; wash the rice clean in lukewarm water and turn and cook them until they break and let it cool, and take the milk and add to the rice and boil them together. And add white grease and meat of chicken cut small, and stir it well, and salt it and dress it in dishes. And fry almonds in fresh grease until they are brown and set them in the dishes, and sprinkle on sugar and serve it forth.

The Recipe

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Ingredients

  • 1 c. Poached Chicken, shredded or chopped
  • 3 c. almond milk
  • 1 c. rice
  • Dash of salt
  • Sugar to taste
  • Optional: ¼ c. slivered almonds (fried in oil) to garnish
  • Optional: ground anise or anise pastilles to garnish

Step ONE: Poach the Chicken

A very easy way to poach chicken is to combine 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with 2 cups of chicken broth, a bay leaf and an optional 2 tsp. of the dried herb of your choice. For dishes like this one, less seasoning is better. Add more broth or water, if necessary, to ensure the chicken is fully submerged.

Bring to a boil and simmer mostly covered for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let the chicken continue to cook for another 20 minutes or until cooked through.

If you do not want to poach the chicken yourself, you could use pre-cooked plain or very lightly seasoned shredded chicken. You do not want the flavor of the chicken to overpower the almonds and rice in your blank maunger.

Step TWO: Cook the rice

Combine almond milk with rice, salt and a little sugar and bring to a boil. Add the cooked chicken, stir and cover. Cook until rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.

I personally like to let the chicken simmer with the rice, but you can mix it in when the rice is done if you prefer. Alternately, you may use pre-cooked rice like what is suggested in the third blawmanger recipe. The result will be a dish with a much mushier consistency, since the rice will have been cooked twice.

About the almond milk:

You can use a commercially-prepared unsweetened almond milk or make your own. For full authenticity, use this medieval recipe for almond milk or this one. For a more savory blank maunger, substitute chicken broth for the water when you make your almond milk.

Step THREE: Spice and Garnish

Sprinkle a little sugar over each portion. If desired, garnish with gently toasted almond slivers, ground anise, or candied anise (anise pastilles) if you can find any.

Note about the garnish in my photos: Normally I garnish with toasted slivered almonds, but on picture day I discovered too late that they had been mistakenly discarded. To add much needed color and contrast, I just mixed in bits of roasted chicken skin that I had on hand, which actually tasted quite good. 

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Blank Maunger

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 c. Poached Chicken, shredded or chopped
  • 3 c. almond milk
  • 1 c. rice
  • Dash of salt
  • Sugar to taste
  • Optional: ¼ c. slivered almonds (fried in oil) to garnish
  • Optional: ground anise or anise pastilles to garnish

Combine rice, almond milk, sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Add shredded/minced poached chicken and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Garnish with sugar, almonds, or anise and serve.


Sources

  • Hart, Val. A History of Blancmange. Guildhall Library Blog. May 17, 2013.
  • Henish, Bridget Ann. Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society. Pennsylvania State University Press, USA. 1976. Print
  • Weiss-Adamson, Melitta. Food in the Middle Ages. Greenwood Press, CT. USA. 2004. Print

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m fascinated by the creativity in Medieval cooking, even though some of it is a little disturbing (cockentrice). Blank Maunger is one I’ll have to try (maybe I’ll add some violets)–thanks for sharing!

    Like

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