by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
Surprisingly, it seems there was not only a Welsh Rabbit, but also an English Rabbit, an Irish and a Scotch Rabbit, but nary a rarebit.
— "Hunting The Welch Rabbit," Hearth to Hearth, May 2000
I first tasted this dish at a Boy Scout summer camp when it was served to us in the dining hall ... a rather odd place to stumble upon this rather unique dish. My older brother came back from the meal talking about this cool English scout who had a funny accent and even pronounced rabbit in a cool way, by calling it rarebit. I had, of course, heard of Welsh rarebit before and was on the verge of finally one-upping my brother by telling him that's how it was actually pronounced, but I bit my tongue. I remained content in my superior knowledge.
Years later, I found out that I was actually wrong. It was, indeed, Welsh Rabbit. It's a traditional Welsh dish that contains no rarebit ... because there is not such a thing as a rarebit. The word rarebit is a corruption of rabbit, which interestingly enough, this dish also does not contain.
Welsh Rabbit was first recorded in 1725 and the variant "Welsh Rarebit" was first recorded in 1785 by Francis Grose. The word rarebit has no other use than in Welsh Rabbit. In fact, it may not even be Welsh in origin, but so named because the Welsh were famous for their love of toasted cheese.
According to a 16th-century joke, St Peter was said to have gotten rid of a troublesome company of Welshman by going outside the gates of heaven and shouting "Rosty'd ches!" The Welshman, hearing, ran out of heaven at a great pace—and who wouldn't be tempted from eternal bliss by such a prospect?
Not rarebit, not rabbit, not even Welsh. What a wacky dish. They should just call it Cheese on Toast.
Speaking of cheese, almost all recipes call for cheddar, but that's probably because it's what most of us keep in the house and rarebit is an empty fridge type of dish. Traditionally, a rarebit would have been made from any of the hard English cheeses—cheddar, double gloucester, cheshire, and lancashire. While cheddar may be the most common, lancashire may be the best choice since it has just enough bite to dominate the dish, without smothering every other ingredient in the process.
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
2 whole eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 lb cheddar cheese, grated or diced
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Melt butter in a double boiler and blend in salt, pepper, mustard, cayenne pepper, celery seed, flour, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until mixture is smooth and bubbly—about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly add milk. Return to heat and bring to a boil. Melt the cheese into the mixture in small portions until completely incorporated. When well blended, lightly whip eggs and add to mixture. Cook about three minutes longer, stirring until thick. Serve on toast.
The interesting thing about Welsh Rarebit is that it can be styled to individual preference based on what's added on top, if at all. Things such as: a few strips of bacon, smoked herring, garnishes like chives, a sliced tomato, a fried egg, etc—all can enhance this recipe.
Most every recipe for Welsh rarebit calls for beer. This is a temperance recipe, but if you'd like an intemperate one, just substitute a stout beer for milk.
Return to Mason-Dixon Recipes