“Welsh rarebit” or “Welsh rabbit” was one of those dishes I’d always wondered about, along with “toad in the hole”, before moving to the UK.
Apparently its name is originally a bit of a slight on the Welsh – who were (many years ago, I’m sure) considered so inept they couldn’t catch a rabbit for dinner, so they had to settle for cheese on toast. In an early example of political correctness the name was adjusted to “rarebit”, supposedly taking a bit of the sting out of the insult.
There’s more to good rarebit than just slices of cheddar plopped on bread and stuck under the grill (broiler, if you prefer). The recipes vary, but common elements seem to be a good cheddar, some Worcestershire sauce and either beer or milk.
I did my research and cobbled together a list of ingredients that seemed like a fair thing – eschewing the egg that one recipe recommended.
A “roux” is not absolutely necessary, but our friend Chef Michelle used one when she served us rarebit during our Belgian fries excursion. Roux in its most basic form is melted butter whisked up with flour, forming a base that adds richness and body to the resulting dish.
We used Guinness for the beer part, but I reckon any beer would do the job. A dark one, though, will give your rarebit a bit more oomph. If you can’t use beer, milk is permissible.
It seems we did make one mistake: whisking for too long after melting the cheese into the roux and beer. The rarebit mixture went very quickly from a nice smooth paste into a blob – it seemed like the fat from the butter had separated out. Everything was quite salvageable, but possibly the final product was a bit greasy as a result.
Rarebit is definitely more interesting than cheese on toast, and if you get the grilling just right the lovely bubbly brown appearance is quite appetising.
Oh, make sure to use a nice crusty loaf too – no pre-sliced industrial rubbish.