Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

When I was a wee lass – in the era of cassette tapes, shoulder pads, and glam rock – I had created a ‘recipe’ for cheese on crackers. It consisted of melting cheese on a cracker by way of the microwave. Immensely proud of this achievement (I was only in single digits after all), I proclaimed that it would feature in my cookbook. I wrote it up with an ingredients list, a method (detailed and with specific steps, of course), and a hand drawn picture of the final dish. However, one recipe does not make a cookbook and it would be decades before TheBoganBuddha was created. This recipe is an homage to that very first recipe. The melted cheese on crackers has been upgraded to a thick cheese sauce on toast in my variation of the Welsh Rarebit – without a microwave in sight!

NOTES

The sauce will be thick! this helps it keep its shape on the toast while under the grill. However, if you prefer a looser consistency then add a little more liquid (no more than a tablespoon at a time) until you reach your desired consistency.

I also like a decent amount of sauce on my toast (I am the same with pasta – life is too short to skimp on sauce!). If your preference is for less, then the amount below may be enough for two servings.

When toasting the rarebit under the grill, I like to keep it a little bit further away from the grill coil. While this increases the grilling time, it does help to ensure that the sauce is hot before the surface bubbles and blisters.

I use a wooden spoon when making a roux based sauce. I’ve found that any lumps which form when the milk is added are beaten out as I incorporate the milk and roux. If you find lumps continue to persist, then try using a whisk when incorporating the milk and roux. Practice make perfect when it comes to roux sauces!

The amount of Worcestershire sauce, cayenne powder, and mustard powder can of course be adjusted to your preference or omitted entirely.

Use a vegetarian version of Worcestershire sauce if you want to eschew the anchovies found in the traditional version of the sauce.

This pairs beautifully with a green salad for a more substantial meal.


Welsh Rarebit
Serves 1

Ingredients

    15g unsalted butter
    15g flour
    100ml milk
    1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    1/4 teaspoon English mustard powder
    1/8 teaspoon cayenne
    30g strong cheddar cheese, grated
    Salt – to taste
    Smoked paprika – for dusting over the rarebit
    Two slices of bread, each side toasted under the grill

Method

  1. In a small saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat.
  2. Once the butter has melted and starts to bubble, add the flour and beat it into the melted butter – this will make the roux base for the sauce. Continue to stir the roux vigorously for 30 seconds.
  3. Pour in the milk and stirring vigorously incorporate it into the roux.
  4. Add the Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, and mustard powder and beat them into the sauce.
  5. Add the grated cheese and continue to stir the sauce vigorously until the cheese melts. This can be done off the heat if the sauce is becoming too thick. Test for seasoning and adjust according to taste.
  6. Spread one side of the toast with the sauce – make sure it covers the entire surface as we want the sauce to bubble and blister and not the toast!
  7. Dust the toast with the smoked paprika and place under the grill. Grill until the sauce has bubbled and blistered to your preference.

Nerd Notification: Etymology

Rarebit (n.)
A perversion of rabbit dating from the 18th century.1

Welsh (adj.)
From Old English Wielisc, Wylisc (West Saxon), and Welisc, Waelisc (Anglian and Kentish) meaning “foreign, British (i.e. not Anglo-Saxon), Welsh, not free, servile”. It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic *Walkhiskaz, which is found in the Latin Volcae a term that referred to people in Gallia Narbonensis.2,3

Further Nerd Notification: History – Falling Down the Rarebit Hole!

In all seriousness, in researching rarebit I fell into a hole that just continued – this humble dish is more than meets the eye.

The Mystery of the Bunny.
Is it rarebit or rabbit? It can be found as both ‘rarebit’ and ‘rabbit’ and there are differing rationales for both names for this dish. Delia Smith prefers ‘rabbit’ which comes from the story where the rabbit eluded the hunter and so escaped becoming the meal. On the other hand, rarebit can be referring to the lack of rabbit in the dish – possibly why the etymology corrupted from rabbit to rarebit. The scarcity of Thumper in the dish is variously attributed to the inability to purchase or hunt rabbit. Despite H. W. Fowler strong opinion that “Welsh rabbit is amusing and right, & Welsh rarebit stupid and wrong”4, the term ‘rarebit’ only seems to be used in relation to this dish.

Which begs the next question – is this dish Welsh?
While it is closely associated with Wales – a country for which I have a massive soft spot – variations are known for Ireland, Scotland, and England. So ‘Welsh’ can refer to the country and the Welsh’s love for cheese (a notion that can be found as far back as the 16th century joke book ‘A Hundred Merry Tales.’)5. However ‘Welsh’ can also refer to something that was ‘foreign’, i.e. not English. It could also refer (rather disparagingly) to the Welsh being unable to afford rabbit (something even the poor of England had on their table).

When is a rarebit not a rarebit?
Then there are the variations! Hannah Glasse in her cookbook ‘The Art of Cookery’ (1747), lists a Scotch, Welch, and English Rabbit which all seem to be early variations of this dish.

To make a Scotch Rabbit.
Toast a piece of bread very nicely on both sides, butter it, cut a slice of cheese about as big as the bread, toast it on both sides, and lay it on the bread.

To make a Welsh Rabbit.
Toast the bread on both sides, then toast the cheese on one side, lay it on the toast, and with a hot iron brown the other side. You may rub it over with mustard.

To make an English Rabbit.
toast a slice of bread brown on both sides, then lay it in a plate before the fire, pour a glass of red wine over it, and let is soak the wine up; then cut some cheese very thin, and lay it very thick over the bread, put it in a tin oven before the fire, and it will be toasted and browned presently. Serve it away hot.6

Along with an Oyster Rarebit and a Tomato Rarebit, there are two version of rarebit in the 1896 cookbook ‘The Boston Cooking School Cook Book’.

Welsh Rarebit I

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon corn-starch
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1/2 cup thin cream
Few grains cayenne
1/2 lb. soft mild cheese cut in small pieces
Toast or zephyrettes

Melt butter, add corn-starch, an stir until well mixed, then add cream gradually, while stirring constantly, and cook two minutes. Add cheese, and stir until cheese is melted. Season, and serve on zephryettes or bread toasted on one side, rarebit being poured over untoasted side. Much of the success of a rarebit depends upon the quality of the cheese. A rarebit should be smooth and of a creamy consistency, never stringy.

Welsh Rarebit II

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1/2 lb. soft mild cheese cut in small pieces
Few grains cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup ale of lager beer
1 egg

Put butter in chafing-dish, and when melted add cheese and seasoning; as cheese melts, add ale gradually, while stirring constantly; then egg slightly beaten. Serve same as Welsh Rarebit I.”7

The esteemed Auguste Escoffier also provides a two recipes for Welsh Rabbit in his 1907 ‘Guide to Modern Cookery’.

2335 – Welsh Rabbit
This may be prepared in two ways, but always on square or rectangular pieces of buttered toast, one-third inch thick.

1. The simplest way is to cover the pieces of toast with a thick layer of grated Gloucester or Chester cheese, to sprinkle them with cayenne, and then to place them in the oven for the cheese to melt and thereby glaze their surfaces.

2. The original method consists in melting the die or slices of cheese in a few tablespoonfuls of pale ale and a little English mustard. As soon as the cheese has melted, it is poured over the pieces of buttered toast, quickly smoothed with the flat of a knife, and sprinkled with cayenne. The pieces may be cut up if required.8

The moniker of ‘rabbit’/’rarebit’ can also be completely dropped! For example, when cooked with tomato it becomes a ‘Blushing Bunny’, and when cooked with an egg on top it becomes a ‘Buck Rabbit’ or a ‘Golden Buck’.

Finally, there seems to be a consensus among contemporary recipes that Worcestershire sauce, English mustard, cayenne, and beer are common ingredients. However, the one thing they all have in common is cheese and bread (well, I suppose that would be two things!).


1Etymonline
2Etymonline
3Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary on Perseus Digital Library
4H. W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1927, p.664
5William Carew Hazlitt, ‘A Hundred Merry Tales: The Earliest English Jest Book, 1887.
6Hannah Glass, ‘The Art of Cookery’, 1747, p.146
7Fannie Merritt Farmer, ‘The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book’, 1913, p.562
8Auguste Escoffier, ‘A Guide to Modern Cookery’, 1907, p.685