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

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

  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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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy P. October 3, 2011 at 9:03 am

Angharad, where did you find Bleu Mont bandaged cheddar in the Twin Cities? I recently tried it and liked it and would love to buy more.

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Angharad October 3, 2011 at 9:48 am

I bought it from Surdyk’s. It was the best cheddar I tried there!

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emily (a nutritionist eats) October 3, 2011 at 9:11 am

Is it awful that I always assumed it was rabbit?!
I’m so glad I know now!! Ha!

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Kate Sommers October 3, 2011 at 9:48 am

I love Rarebit. Kyle has a fascination with Wales (and the Welsh Language) so the first time we had it was in Cardiff, but we’ve had it many times since. The best I think was at the Northeast Social, but I think with their chef changes a while ago the rarebit got the axe. Sad.

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Angharad October 3, 2011 at 10:01 am

Good man. We’re heading home in November and spending some time in the Fatherland (aka Wales) so I hope to eat plenty over there. It’s such a dream.

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Emily {What Emily Did Next} October 3, 2011 at 10:33 am

Cheese on toast, in any incarnation, is a beautiful thing. This post is making me veeeery hungry, even though I’ve just eaten!

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Marisa October 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

I think I know what I’ll be having for dinner tonight! I feel so intrigued with the idea of using a roux for the rarebit – I’ve never thought of that. But we all know that roux makes everything better! Hmmn – just thinking here as I write this – I wonder how it would be with an egg based roux? I make a roux with eggs in it for a Greek pastitio recipe and it is so rich and creamy and puffs up a bit in the oven. Would be like combining your roux rarebit with my egg/cream paste rarebit. I just might have to try!

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Angharad October 3, 2011 at 11:28 am

Genius! Please try it and let me know how it turns out. I’ve definitely seen some recipes that incorporate egg yolk into the roux but I like simplicity and didn’t want to go too overboard. I’m intrigued by the puffing up aspect though :)

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Marisa October 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I’m going to do it! Tonight! Will let you know how it goes :)

Todd October 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm

This looks sooooo good. Will have to give it a go using the “house” cheese, Collier’s powerful Welsh cheddar cheese: http://www.collierscheese.com/US/

I bought some for then soon-to-be in-laws and made some HUGE brownie points.

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Laurie Jesch-Kulseth @ Relishing It October 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Have me over for some? :) Seriously, right up my alley! Looks fantastic and I bet it smells/tastes even better.

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holly October 5, 2011 at 12:36 pm

two things:

(1) i always thought welsh rarebit was actually rabbit until this post #truefact

(2) HOLLA FOR WISCONSIN CHEESE!!! :)

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Paul Mathias January 6, 2015 at 5:36 am

Nothing makes me feel more Welsh than a plate of rarebit and a pint of Feninfoel Double Dragon ale.

Unfortunately for me, I cannot find any DD out here in Oz!

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