“WHY don’t you do cheese on toast with beer – that’s easy,” suggested my husband.
I look at him in astonishment; since when did simplicity equate with easy? Take omelettes; I make a passable mushroom omelette, it’s filling at any rate; but compare it to omelette aux fine herbes made by a competent French chef, and you’ll soon taste la difference.
Anyway, cheese on toast with beer is actually Welsh rabbit or rarebit, and a snack that has stood the test of time. It was first recorded in 1725 but why Welsh; and why rabbit – or indeed rarebit? One theory has it that the term was used disparagingly by the English to imply that the Welsh could only afford cheese, not rabbit – or indeed if it did contain any meat it would be a “rare bit.”
I’m still puzzled because one would think rabbits hopped wild in Wales but, whatever, the Welsh have the last laugh because their tasty treat defines comfort food; homely, warming, and comforting in these uncertain times when so many are perhaps feeling isolated and anxious.
Of course, a trip to the pub is a great pick-you-up but better get your skates on in case your beloved local is mystifyingly raised to Tier 3 and locks its doors before you get to the bar…and if you can’t do that, then there is nothing like a bit of cookery therapy to lift the spirits, especially if it involves a few slurps of beer along the way.
When you’re making a dish that seems simple and involves few ingredients, the golden rule is to get the best you can. Most rarebit recipes specify Cheddar, partly because it melts so well, and I found a cracker at my local farm shop – Organic Wyke, full flavoured and mature with a hint of sharpness.
The bread I used was a delicious artisanal style ‘sourdough containing dark beer’ which I was surprised to find in a supermarket (Waitrose). The beer is all important – it’s interesting that most rarebit recipes specify ale; it definitely needs to be malty rather than bitter, and brown rather than golden not just for the flavour but the appearance. The recipe actually contains very little beer, so make sure you choose one characterful enough to make its voice heard. Luckily I already had a beer I felt had the right Celtic connection for a Welsh dish – Cornish brewer Dowr Kammel’s outstanding unfiltered Bodmin Wildcat, hand made on the banks of the Camel using water from a tributary and whole Cornish hop leaves, it drinks bigger than its ABV (and that’s 5.7%!). Tawny hued with butterscotch notes and barley wine presence I’m just glad I’ve still got another in my cellar – along with a few more from their stable.
Cheers – and bon appétit!
Really wild Welsh rarebit (serves two)
175g good Cheddar (grated); half tsp Worcester sauce; level tsp mustard powder; grating of black pepper; 4 tbsps brown ale; 2-3 slices sourdough bread (depending on loaf size), cut quite thickly.
Put topping ingredients in a smallish, thick bottomed pan and heat very gently and slowly, stirring until the cheese melts and the mix thickens – don’t overheat or it will go stringy. Toast the bread on both sides then arrange in the bottom of a grill pan, spread over the topping, then place under the grill for a couple of minutes until brown and bubbling. Serve with tomatoes, pickle, a few salad leaves and the rest of your bottle of ale.
Join the Discourse
Want to discuss this article? Join in on Discourse