Welsh Rabbit Redux

I’m going to have to call this dish “rabbit”, not “rarebit”. I was reading about Welsh Rabbit on Wikipedia and here is a quote about the use of the term “rarebit”:

In his 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the grammarian H. W. Fowler states a forthright view: “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.”

Fair enough is what I say. All I’m looking for is an easy dinner that is not the same old thing we always have. So, because I was asked to by a reader, I am exploring Welsh Rabbit. Last night I took a pass at it.

Since I am staying at my mom’s house, I decided to start with Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cookery and Household Management – I wish I had my own copy; it’s instructive and hilarious. Incidentally, Mrs. Beeton refers to the dish as “rarebit”. Mrs. Beeton’s is a compendium of all household work, much cooking, but also decorating, home economics, etiquette and childrearing – all are covered. Her book has been the English person’s source for classic English dishes. Mrs. Beeton’s Welsh Rabbit recipe isn’t all that different from the sauce that I make to put on penne for macaroni and cheese, so I passed. I didn’t want to make the same-old-thing-but-on-toast. A big mistake – I should have stuck with the familiar here, as that is the whole point of this kind of dish. I turned to Joy, a book I would call the counterpart to Mrs. Beeton’s in the States. My mother has the 1975 edition, if you’re curious. Joy refers to the dish as “Welsh Rarebits”…(should I let them know that this is “stupid and wrong”?!)

There are two recipes included; one using beer, the other milk. I wanted something different so I decided on the one with beer. Also, I liked the sound of Worcestershire, paprika, curry powder and cayenne (I substituted Tabasco which is what my mom had in the house. I know the Tabasco was not the big problem with the dish)

I just want to give you an idea of how it works. I can’t give you a recipe in good conscience – you don’t really want to make something that even your significant other will think of as “kind of yucky”. On the other hand my mom said she liked it. However, this is how she put it: “If I don’t have to make dinner, it tastes 600% better.” I have to factor in that statement. Also my mom is predisposed to like British food because she grew up in England. She said the Rabbit tasted like pub food. I think this was supposed to be a big compliment, although since she was very young when she lived in Britain and also since it was just after WWII (AND she hates beer!) I am not sure how much real experience she has with pub food.

Anyway, what you do is melt a little butter in a double boiler over simmering water and add a cup of ale. When it is warm, whisk in a pound of grated sharp cheddar (aged less than two years – if it is aged longer than that you will have problems with the fat separating out of the Rabbit and pooling in unattractive puddles on the top.) When the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth, add a lightly beaten egg, whisk and add the seasoning. Honestly, I would give the measurements but I really don’t think you should try this. It was not good.

The sauce was quite runny. Like thin gravy. The color was French mustard yellow. I was concerned that it should have been a spoon-coating thick sauce, like a thick melted milkshake, so to thicken it up I had Martin make me a little roux which he cooked separately while I whisked and peered anxiously into the pot. The roux made for a markedly thicker sauce, but I shouldn’t have bothered. The photo on Wikipedia shows a soupy cheese sauce on toast. My sauce was so unattractive, I poured it over the toast and ran it under the broiler. My mom said my grandmother used to broil her Welsh Rabbit. She did the milk and white sauce kind. Browning the top helped the visual appeal to a degree.

When we sat down to eat everyone except my mom looked skeptical and glum. It was a “what is this?!” kind of night. The kids dutifully took one bite and that was enough for them. The bread, mushy under the mantle of sauce, had a sad and mealy kind of texture. The sharpness and saltiness of the cheese was underscored by the Worcestershire and the mustard but not in a good way. The curry was just plain weird.

You may think I am crazy, but I still have hope for Welsh Rabbit. Next time I’ll try the kind with milk but probably not until the memory of this debacle has faded.

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6 responses to “Welsh Rabbit Redux

  1. Bah – too bad about the rarebit. I used to be very curious (I mean bubbly cheese on toast – how could that be bad?) Now I am not so curious.

    If you are going to try out something weird and British, how about sweet buttered beer? Heston Blumenthal has a recipe that is supposed to be delicious (though tooth achingly sweet).

  2. Buttered beer!? How very Harry Potter. Don’t worry, I have very high hopes for the dairy version rabbit – also I think the beer version would be helped if it had crustier, thicker bread and a different audience

  3. Kathleen Connelly

    Thank you for boldly going through with this. I also read the Wikipedia entry on Welsh rabbit and was interested to find that it’s an ironic title. I guess we should beware of ironic food.

  4. So if you were me, would the beer version have interested you? Am I nuts?! I think I might be nuts for trying…

  5. Thanks so much for trying it! What a bummer it didn’t work out. I know my mother used to make it. I’ll ask where she got her recipe, if she rememebers.

  6. Actually, I am FINE with it not working out. I loved that you asked. Failure is part of the fun of it. In fact spectacular failure is more interesting than success sometimes. I am gearing up for round two…maybe tonight – I am still looking for something to eat tonight! With a bechamel this time.

    There was also a version I need to look into that had only 3 tbsp of beer – might be a lot better.

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