National Welsh Rarebit Day (or, if you prefer, Welsh Rabbit Day) is coming up on Thursday.
For those of you who go meatless some or all of the time but still eat dairy products, this traditional cheese-on-toast dish that hails from Wales might be a tasty, hearty substitute — especially when the temperature starts to dip as we get closer to autumn.
The dish is a fancy version of melted, browned cheese on toast. The cheese sauce that’s poured over the toasted bread often includes either beer or milk, along with mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
According to CulinaryLore.com, this dish was originally called Welsh Rabbit; many people still call it that, even though it has nothing resembling a rabbit in the ingredients.
That site and other online culinary history resources suggest the English named the dish back in the 18th century, insulting the Welsh by implying they were too poor to afford rabbit to eat (or too incompetent to catch one).
CulinaryLore and the Oxford Dictionaries blog further suggest the later version of the dish’s name, Welsh Rarebit, was invented by the Welsh to elevate the status of this humble dish.
The term “rabbit” was associated with the dish as early as 1725, while the earliest mention of “rarebit” occurred during the 1780s.
Whatever you call it, the dish will appeal to those who like their grilled cheese sandwiches with some added oomph.
Here’s a recipe for Welsh Rabbit or Welsh Rarebit – whichever term you prefer – from the University of Wyoming Extension office. The staff there adapted it from Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup beer (see Notes below for substitution)
2 teaspoons mustard powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1½ cups sharp Cheddar cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons butter
Salt to taste
4 to 6 tomato slices
8 to 12 slices (½-inch thick), toasted French, Italian, or whole wheat rustic bread
Preheat a broiler. Place the beer, mustard, cayenne, and Worcestershire sauce in a saucepan, and heat over medium heat until boiling. Slowly whisk in the cheese, making sure each addition is melted before adding the next. Add the butter, and whisk until smooth. Season with salt to taste, and set aside.
Place the tomato slices on the rack of a broiler pan, and broil for 1 minute, or until lightly browned.
To serve, place the toast slices on the bottom of an oven-proof gratin dish or in individual gratin dishes. Pour the cheese over the toast, and then top with the tomato slices. Place under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and brown. Serve immediately.
If you don’t like beer, you can replace it with milk and it will still taste great.
The components of the dish can be prepared up to a few hours in advance and kept at room temperature. Reheat the cheese until hot, whisking until it is smooth, before the final broiling.
For the rarebit
1 ounce butter
12 ounces of mature Welsh farmhouse cheese
4 fluid ounces of ale or milk
½ teaspoon of mild mustard
Salt and pepper
For the sandwich
18 medium-size circles of bread
6 large, ripe tomatoes, sliced thin
Fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil
Salt and pepper
To make the rarebit: Melt the butter in a pan, add the grated cheese and stir over a low heat until melted. Pour in the ale or milk, add the mustard (and any other flavoring you want). Season to taste. Bring the mixture up to near boiling point, and then remove from the heat.
To prepare the sandwich: Either toast or fry the bread (use a little light olive oil, and drain off any excess after cooking on some kitchen paper). Assemble a three-tier sandwich with the sliced tomatoes, herbs and seasoning between the layers. Place on a baking sheet, pour a good helping of the rarebit mixture over it and brown it either under a hot grill or in a hot oven (preheated at the highest setting). Serve immediately.