This is an old recipe with various origin stories, even the name has differing etymologies. It’s most likely a quick breakfast or lunch eaten by Welsh miners in the days of yore. One explanation for the name is that Welshmen, disenfranchised under English rule, were too poor to afford meat, and thus the toast and cheese mixture was called “Welsh Rabbit” as the closest to it they could afford. The first recorded use of the term comes from a 1725 cookbook, where it was called Welsh Rabbit. The term “rarebit” seems to be a corruption of the original name, perhaps meant to remove any sense of mockery, or, more likely, simply as a phonetic spelling, spelling it as it was pronounced in the 18th century vernacular.
Whatever the origins of the dish, Welsh rarebit is a quintessential pub food – inexpensive, filling, flavorful, and immensely warming on the cold and rainy days that predominate in the Welsh hill country. The addition of ale is important here, and it’s well worth it to use a good craft ale. A good balance of hops and malt is preferable so as to limit the ale’s bite or malty sweetness from tilting the balance of the dish to one side. An American Pale Ale would, ironically, work just great for the dish. Sierra Nevada would work well, but if you want to get extremely authentic you could search out an English or Welsh ale such as Cwtch (not a typo, it’s Welsh!) red ale!
- ¼ cup butter
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- ½ pound shredded Cheddar cheese
- ½ cup ale
- 1 cup milk or half and half
- Dash of Worchestershire sauce
- Sprinkle of dry mustard powder
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8 pieces toast
- 2 red tomatoes with the top and bottom sliced off, cut into two thick slices crosswise
- 1 tbsp bacon grease
- Chopped parsley, chopped hot ham, chipped beef or crumbled bacon
- To begin, Melt butter over medium heat in a sauce pan.
- Add flour and stir to form a roux. Pour in ale and whisk to blend, allowing some of the alcohol to burn off.
- Add the milk, Worcestershire, mustard and salt and pepper and increase the heat to a simmer. While the milk is heating, heat a skillet on high heat and add the bacon grease.
- Season both sides of the tomato slices with salt and pepper and then fry them until they soften and color a little, at which point flip them over and cook the other side. Whisk in the cheddar cheese to the milk mixture a little at a time until it’s all mixed in and the sauce is smooth.
- Pour sauce over 2 pieces of toast and add desired topping and set the fried tomato on the side. A fried tomato slice is a great accompaniment to any breakfast, but especially good with English fare or fried eggs.