I can’t remember the first time I heard of Welsh rarebit, but for a long time I was convinced it was either 1. a mythical creature like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot roaming around the mooreland of Wales, or 2. a Welsh pub dish involving roasted rabbit. I was wrong on both accounts. Although it was originally known as Welsh rabbit, Welsh rarebit is a meat-free meal hailing from 18th century Britain. The dish goes back to at least 1725, where it was recorded in John Byron’s Private Journal and Literary Remains: “I did not eat of cold beef, but of Welsh rabbit and stewed cheese.”
Strangely enough, the Welsh rarebit isn’t actually from Wales, but in fact a British term for a lower-grade version of an item. It’s likely that those who couldn’t afford to buy meat made Welsh rarebit as a substitute. While meat is fine and good, I have to say that those eating Welsh rarebit may have gotten the better end of the deal. This dish is a thick, mustardy cheese sauce smeared over toasted bread, then popped under the broiler to brown. Since I can hear your stomach growling from here (oh wait, that’s mine), here’s how to make Welsh rarebit.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon flour and whisk the mixture until it begins to brown and smell slightly nutty. Whisk in ½ cup porter beer, a splash of heavy cream, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon sweet paprika, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Continue to whisk until the ingredients are fully incorporated.
For a variation on Welsh rarebit known as a Blushing Bunny, whisk in ¼ cup tomato soup (canned is fine).
Reduce the heat to low and use a wooden spoon to stir in 1 ½ cup shredded Gruyere cheese into the butter mixture. As the cheese melts, stir in 3 cups of shredded yellow cheddar cheese (1 cup at a time) into the sauce until the cheese is melted and the mixture is fully uniform.
As the cheese melts, lightly toast 4 pieces of thick wheat bread for a few minutes in a 375ºF oven. Pull the bread from the oven, and thickly spread on the cheese mixture to completely smother one side of each piece of toast. You may have leftover cheese sauce, but this doesn’t really sound like a problem to me.
Turn the oven to broil and grill the bread for 2-3 minutes, or until the top begins to look a bit scorched. Pull the bread from the oven and munch away. If you’re inclined to serve your Welsh Rarebit topped with a poached or fried egg—and honestly, why wouldn’t you?—you should know that you’ve actually just made another variation on the dish called a Buck Rarebit. Hop to it.