Winter is thankfully coming to an end, but stocks are still low. The manor home may have some salted meat (or fresh if you are lucky), cereal grains (such as wheat, rice, and rye), and root vegetables. Lent is starting soon, taking with it the possibility of meat. It’s time for one of the middle ages’ most common dishes: chicken and rice. In the period chicken and rice made with almond milk was known as blancmange (or blamanger).
I’m using a 15th-century English recipe, but the dish was found throughout Medieval Europe. Made plainly, this could be food for the sick, or with herbs and spices to alter the taste or color to show off wealth. The chicken could be ground or cut small and could be swapped out with other poultry or even fish. I’m using fresh chicken, but salted meat might have been all that the cook could have gotten. Salted chicken would have needed to be soaked and the water changed a few times.
Blamanger. Take faire Almondes, and blanche hem, And grynde hem with sugour water into faire mylke; and take ryse, and seth. And whan they beth wel y-sodde, take hem vppe, and caste hem to the almondes mylke, and lete hem boile togidre til thei be thikk; And then take the brawne of a Capon, and tese hit small, And caste thereto; and then take Sugur and salt, and caste thereto, and serue hit forth in maner of mortrewes.
Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, T. Austin (ed.)
Take fair almonds and blanch them, and grind them with sugar water into fair milk, and take rice and seethe. And when they are well soaked them up and cast them into the almond milk, and let them boil together till they are thick. And then take the meat of a chicken (capon) and cut it small and cast thereto and then take sugar and salt and cast thereto and serve it.
1 ⅓ cup rice
3 cups water (plus extra water to cover chicken half way up)
⅓ cup ground almonds
4 chicken thighs
2 tsp sugar
Pinch dried rosemary
Pinch dried thyme
Pinch dried parsley
Put the chicken thighs (with bone and skin on) in a deep skillet/pan and cover half way up with water, sprinkle in some dried rosemary, thyme, and parsley. Cook on medium for about an hour or so, until the chicken can easily separate from the bone, flipping the chicken once halfway through.
In a smallish pot soak the ground almonds in 3 cups of very hot water, for at least half an hour (and now we have almond milk, see how easy it is?). Soak rice in (other) water for about five minutes, then rinse very well. Strain the almonds out of the almond milk and set aside. Add a tsp of sugar to the almond milk, then add the rice. Bring the rice to a boil over medium heat then set to very low until rice is cooked (or however you like to cook rice).
Debone and cut the chicken up into small pieces. Add the chicken to the cooked rice, top with a few heavy pinches of salt another tsp of sugar.
To me, the resulting dish tasted pretty much like the chicken and rice I grew up eating. It was, honestly, a bit dry, and it could have done with some more water in the rice, and perhaps some of the chicken cooking liquid. From what I glean, the medieval dish would have been wetter than what mine was. And when I eat the leftovers tomorrow, I’m adding butter.
To my husband, it tasted sweeter than it did to me, and he added sour cream to his second bowl, but he really liked it. He thought it needed more meat, where I think it had more meat than it might have had in period.
According to Garcia:
“What kind of rice is sweet, it’s amazing. 4 out of 5 Garcia’s, it’s kinda dry”