When I was young, maybe 6 or 7, I found a box of Stouffer’s Welsh Rabbit in the freezer at my grandparent’s house. I concluded that among the other items that my grandparents ate that I then deemed disgusting (snails, stinky blue cheese, & alligator to name a few) they also ate rabbit. This was perhaps the worst offense in my young mind. I went around for years believing that my grandparents kept boxes of rabbit in their freezer, disgusted by the very thought, and was very hesitant to dig too deeply in the ice box for fear of what else I might find. I learned later that Welsh Rabbit was not in fact made from the cotton-tailed hopper but simply bread and cheese: glorified cheese toast.
These days it’s usually called Welsh Rarebit or simply rarebit– rabbit is the original spelling that somehow morphed into Rarebit over the years. I imagine the name change is slightly less confusing to young, impressionable children like me.
Cheese toast was a treat when I was a kid; something I had a few times a year with a slice of good ol’ American cheese. Remember those Kraft singles that turned bubbly and brown and had a satin-y sheen when you heated them? This was the cheese toast of my youth. Delicious and melty but with very little real cheese flavor.
You can find Welsh Rarebit on more menus than you might expect in the UK–at least I didn’t expect it. While I’ve never ordered it, seeing it more often has reminded me of the joys of cheese toast and prompted me to make my own, more adult-ish and just as delicious, cheese toast at home. So I offer you this recipe for this fancy, ultimate cheese toast of cheese toasts, Welsh Rarebit.
The base is a yummy cheese sauce, made in just a few minutes using mustard, cayenne, Worcester sauce and really good sharp cheddar cheese. The result is simple, delicious, tangy cheese sauce with loads of flavor that is creamy and melty. It’s still brown and bubbly but a bit more refined than the Kraft singles of the past. It might just challenge your youthful ideas of what cheese toast should be.
As far back as the Middle Ages, people knew the Welsh loved roasted cheese, and the name probably originated back then. Plenty of legends and folktales surround why the dish has been named Welsh Rarebit. My favorite legend is that the English named it as a slight against the Welsh. The idea was that the Welsh people were so poor that they couldn’t afford even the cheapest meat, rabbit, so went with the more accessible cheese on toast. If that’s the case, I say bravo to the Welsh who used what they had to create what has morphed into quite a delicacy over the years.
My recipe follows neither the faux-cheese toast of my childhood nor the historic mornay-esque cheese sauce of a lot of the classic recipes. This recipe maintains the classic cheesiness with added mustard spiciness and uses dark, rich Guinness for a deep, robust flavor rather than a less complex lager. I thicken the sauce a good deal more than other recipes and this allows the toast to really hold up to the cheesy goodness rather than disintegrate into a soppy mess. This thicker sauce also allows you to pop your Welsh Rarebit under the broiler so you get those amazing brown, bubbly, cheesy bits which are really the whole reason for cheese toast.
If you like this Welsh Rarebit, you might also like:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon English mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- a few grinds black pepper
- 1/2 cup Guinness
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 6 oz. Red Leceister cheese or any sharp cheddar you like, grated finely
- 4 slices hearty bread rye, white, or wheat whatever you like really
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives for garnish
First, toast your bread to your preferred toasted-ness. Preheat the broiler on high. After it's cooled, place toast on a baking sheet that can go under the broiler.
Next, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and then whisk in the flour. Continue whisking for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour, but make sure you don't brown it. Whisk in the mustard, Worcester, cayenne, salt and pepper. Whisk until combined and pretty smooth. Pour in the beer, whisking to combine. Next pour in the cream and whisk until mixture is completely smooth. Add the cheese in about 4 batches, stirring continuously and allowing each addition of cheese to melt and become smooth before adding the next batch. This will take a few minutes.
Once the sauce is completely smooth, spoon the cheese evenly over your toast and spread it to the edges. Places cheesy toasts under the broiler for 2-4 minutes until they are as brown and bubbly as you like. Watch them carefully because they will go from golden brown to burned in the blink of an eye!
Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Top with chives and an extra drizzle of Worcestershire sauce if you'd like!