Saturday, August 7, 2010

Welsh Rarebit

One of the most popular dishes of the early to mid-twentieth century (and certainly one that I’ve seen in a myriad of vintage cookbooks and ladies magazines) was Welsh rarebit (sometimes simply called “rarebit” or “rarebit cheese”), a hearty, homey, wonderfully simple dish that in both comforting and energizing at the same time.

Comprised of a zippy cheese sauce poured over relatively thick slices of bread, this dish is close cousin to both grilled cheese sandwiches and croque-monsieur. It pairs wonderfully with soups (such as roasted red pepper or minestrone), salads, fresh fruit (especially apples, pears and figs), and light fair such as grilled vegetables or chicken.

{This charming vintage illustration, from Eudamonius’ Flickr stream dictates that Welsh Rarebit should always be paired with toast. Good advice, but if you’re in the mood for something a little different, this tasty, versatile cheese sauce also works terrifically over English muffins, crackers, or as a fondue style dip.}

This particular recipe is one I’ve tweaked over the years, sometimes adding fresh herbs such as basil or chives, or jazzed up further with the inclusion of (rehydrated) sundried (or oven roasted) tomatoes or pitted and sliced black olives. Some people like to include a little ale or even hot sauce in their recipes, but I’ve not tried such versions myself.
This rarebit recipe is a wonderful dish that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes, making it perfect for meals on the go or times when unexpected lunch or dinner gets drop by.


• 6 slices white or brown bread of choice, provided the bread you use is somewhat sturdy (I like varieties such as ciabatta, French, and sourdough – or a luxurious spin, you can even brioche, if you fancy), cut about ¾ of an inch (2cm) thick

• 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (Gruyere is also nice, if you prefer)

• 1/2 cup milk (or, if you’re feeling indulgent, cream)

• 1 tbsp unsalted butter

• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

• ½ tsp dry English mustard (such as Colman’s) or, alternatively, ½ tsp Hungarian paprika

• ¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional, best omitted if using paprika)

• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


In a double boiler (or a heat resistant glass bowl over a saucepan partially filled with boiling water), first bring the water up to a boil and then reduce the heat (burner temperature) to medium. Melt the butter, add the flour and mustard (or paprika) and stir briskly for a few seconds to combine (thereby creating a pale roux).

Next gradually add the milk and Worcestershire sauce (if using), stirring as you add. Allow mixture to come to a gentle simmer (not a rolling boil) and thicken somewhat. Next add the shredded cheddar cheese, salt and pepper (now would also be the time to include ingredients such as herbs, if you were using them), stirring moderately until the cheese had melted and the sauce has thickened to a consistency reminiscent of hollandaise sauce.

Meanwhile as the cheese sauce is nearing completion, toast the six slices of bread. Once cheese sauce is ready and the bread is toasted, divide the toast between three plates (two slices per serving) and spoon (or ladle) the sauce equally over each portion of toast. Serve and enjoy immediately :)

Makes three servings (two slices of bread each), or however many you wish to divide up between the six slices of bread.

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