Welsh rarebit is also known as Welsh rabbit because it originated in the 1500s as a popular dish among Welsh working class families, many of whom couldn’t afford to eat meat like rabbit. Instead, they’d cook Welsh rarebit – it was a Welsh man’s version of ‘rabbit’.
The first ever recorded mention of the dish was in 1725, in John Byron’s Literary Remains: ‘I did not eat of cold beef, but of Welsh rabbit and stewed cheese.’ Many people believe Welsh rarebit should still be referred to as Welsh rabbit to this day.
Over time, however, Welsh rabbit gradually became known as Welsh rarebit. It’s not clear exactly why this was, but it’s thought the change came about at the end of the 18th century, when the dish had become more mainstream. Some believe the name was changed in an attempt to move away from patronising connotations associated with the nature of the dish as a poor man’s supper.
Although it can’t be officially proven, it’s widely accepted that Welsh rarebit originated in Wales.
According to a 14th Century religious text, the Welsh were behaving in an unruly manner in heaven, so in order to make them go away, St. Peter stood outside the gates to heaven and yelled, “Caws pobi!” This translates literally to ‘toasted cheese’ in Welsh. Upon hearing this, the Welsh dashed out of heaven and the Pearly Gates were closed behind them.
Fat is an essential component of any Welsh rarebit; without it, the cheese has a tendency to become slightly rubbery. My recipe uses melted butter, but you can also use margarine or double cream and some people prefer to use eggs for a creamier texture. Experiment to discover what works best for you.
A typical Welsh rarebit recipe will use stout, beer or ale, although I’ve also come across some other versions that use white wine, Port or cider.
If you don’t tend to drink alcohol, however, you could try substituting it with milk.
A traditional Welsh rarebit is made using a sharp cheddar cheese, but Lancashire, Cheshire and Double Gloucester also work very well.
If you’re all about that vegan lifestyle, you could just find a good vegan cheese, vegan margarine or spread and vegan Worcestershire sauce in the place of the non vegan ingredients.
- 50g/2oz flour
- 50g/2oz butter
- 250ml/9oz strong ale/beer
- 250g/9oz strong, mature cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon of mustard powder
- 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
- 4 large slices granary bread
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan and make a roux by adding the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, continuously stirring to prevent the roux from burning. Slowly add the beer and stir it in, until you have a thick but smooth sauce.
- Add the grated cheese in increments and stir until melted. You should now have a thick paste. Mix in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce.
- Lightly toast and butter your bread, then pile up the cheesy mixture on each slice. Cook under a hot grill for a few minutes, until browned and bubbling.
- Enjoy… with the rest of that beer… so what if it’s breakfast time, it’s five o’clock somewhere.