Calling all cheese connoisseurs – it’s time to get your grill on for National Welsh Rarebit Day…
Welsh rarebit, or Welsh rabbit, as it is also known, is one of the finest versions of cheese on toast in the world and one of my all-time personal favourites. While the history of this cheesy treat remains somewhat murky, it is commonly thought to have originated in Wales in the 1700s, when peasants were too poor to get their hands on meat and so created rarebit as a tasty alternative (hence the reference to rabbit). Comprising thick-cut bread, grilled cheese and any number of optional ingredients, including ale, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and paprika, it is a very simple yet very tasty snack and is well-loved among cheese lovers.
Delicious as it is, rarebit wasn’t always as popular as it is today; considered by many to be nothing more than simple cheese on toast, this Welsh delicacy was denied its spot in the culinary limelight for some years. In fact, it is largely due to restaurateur Fergus Henderson of St John in London that this previously under-appreciated delight has finally gained the recognition it deserves. In his pioneering cookbook, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, Henderson celebrates rarebit in all its simple perfection, presenting his own scrumptious recipe for readers to try at home and confidently proclaiming, ‘We all love cheesy toast!’ It seems Henderson hit the nail on the head when he wrote these words back in 2004, as rarebit quickly rose to fame and found itself a permanent home on a multitude of menus, not only in Wales, but across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom – a welcome treat for cheese lovers everywhere.
Today just so happens to be National Welsh Rarebit Day and to celebrate I have devised a lip-smacking version of my own using Applewood’s delicious smoked Cheddar, the delicately spicy and smoky flavour of which perfectly complements the other ingredients. I used a wonderfully light yeast bread made with cornmeal, but this recipe will work just as well with any white or wholemeal loaf – just make sure it’s thickly sliced. So, if you love cheesy toast as much as I do, get stuck into a slice of rarebit today and join me in celebrating this splendid snack in style.
Welsh Rarebit with Caramelised Red Onion
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes
Serves: 4 people
4 slices yeast cornbread (thick-cut)
250ml semi-skimmed milk
50g unsalted butter
50g plain white flour (sifted)
185g Applewood smoked Cheddar (grated)
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Cracked black pepper and ground paprika to taste
1 large red onion (thinly sliced)
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. soft dark brown sugar
1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the red onion with a sprinkling of salt. Fry over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often until the onions have softened completely. Add the sugar along with the vinegar and continue to heat until fully dissolved. When done, remove from the heat and leave to the side for later.
2. In a saucepan, gently melt the butter until fully dissolved then gradually stir in the flour until a smooth yellow paste has formed. Heat for a further two minutes to cook off the flour, stirring continuously to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Next, add all of the milk a little at a time, continuing to stir until a thick, smooth sauce has formed. Add the cheese, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and paprika, and continue to heat until fully melted. When ready, immediately remove from the heat and leave to the side while you prepare the bread.
3. Slice lightly toast each slice of bread on one side. Spread a generous slathering of the cheese paste onto each of the the untoasted sides and grill for around five minutes until golden brown. When done, remove from the grill and serve with a spoonful of caramelised red onion.