welsh rarebit

October 3, 2011

I think you’d be hard pushed to find a more simple British comfort food than Welsh Rarebit.

Perfect as an after-dinner snack or a mid-day hunger stopper, nothing could be more satisfying to me than rich, cheesy, flavourful, crunchy Welsh Rarebit.

If you’re not British then the first thing you need to know is that Welsh Rarebit is essentially fancy cheese on toast.

I’m not sure there’s anything that Welsh about it. From what I could dig up, the dish may have originated as an insult to the Welsh from the English. A couple of centuries ago rabbit was considered the poor man’s meat in England, whereas the poor man’s “meat” in Wales was…cheese. Hence the name, which is often pronounced and spelled “rabbit”.

Honestly, I think the Welsh had it all figured out. Rabbit? I’ll take a strong, sharp cheddar any day of the week, thanks.

Good quality ingredients will really make rarebit shine. Crunchy bread; excellent local butter and milk; good grainy mustard.

Which brings us to the cheese. Proper cheddar should be crumbly, tangy, and really sharp. U.S. supermarket versions just won’t do here. The flavour needs to be strong and pungent enough to shine through all the other ingredients.* I highly recommend Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar from Wisconsin. Perfectly stinky.

Growing up I never really made “proper” rarebit – only a slightly glorified cheese on toast. Many recipes call for the addition of beer but I find it to be too rich and take away from the cheese flavour. Heaven forbid. I find making a basic roux and adding milk to be the best bet. It adds even more creaminess while letting the cheese shine.

Welsh Rarebit
adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 50g/2oz plain (all purpose) flour
  • 300ml/10oz milk
  • 150g/5oz grated farmhouse cheddar cheese
  • mustard, Worcestershire sauce and black pepper to season
  • 4 large slices crusty/granary bread (choose the best bread you can here, a proper seedy bakery loaf – for such a simple meal each element should shine)
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives, to garnish (optional)


  1. Melt butter in a pan, stir in all purpose flour and cook for two minutes. Gradually stir in milk to make a very thick, smooth sauce.
  2. Add grated cheese, stir until melted, then season with about a teaspoon of mustard, several dashes of Worcestershire sauce and a few grinds of black pepper.
  3. Pile on to toast and grill (broil) until browned and bubbling. Garnish with chives and serve hot and bubbly.

*You can find excellent cheeses at most co-ops, Whole Foods and other specialty shops (in Minneapolis, Surdyk’s and France 44 Cheese Shop).

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