Thursday, November 6, 2008

Great Moment In Cheap Eats: Welsh Rabbit

Grilled cheese, like so many cheap meals, is also quintessential comfort food. Who among us hasn't enjoyed a grilled cheese when we were at our littlest, or our brokest, or our middle-of-the-night-college-drunkest? Grilled cheese, besides being the affordable kind of default, pantry-staple dinner or snack we can count on, is just plain good eating.

But, while reliably tasty, grilled cheese is lacking a certain something in the excitement department. It is, sometimes, a smidgen boring. The cheesy answer? (Lactose intolerant readers, avert your eyes.)

Welsh Rabbit! Welsh Rabbit is basically an open-face grilled cheese sandwich, but the cheese is melty and boozy and spicy, sort of like a robust fondue. It utilizes any variety of flat or past-its-prime booze you happen to have around the house: traditional Rabbit calls for flat ale or beer, but I use leftover white wine most often.

old booze
I'm telling you: undrinkable wine never had it this good.

And why is it called Welsh Rabbit? It is a joke, a joke that is likely at the expense of the Welsh. (Welsh readers, avert your eyes.) According the aged tomes of Ye Olde Wikipedia:
It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese. It may be a slur against the Welsh, since the dish contains no meat and so was considered inferior. Then again, because the word Welsh was at the time used by the English to describe anything inferior or foreign, it may allude to the dish's Continental European origin.
To recap: obscure English cultural joke, vague Euro-flair, booze, spices, cheese. Welsh Rarebit has it all!

Side note: you see some cookbooks refer to this dish as Welsh Rarebit, but as grammarian H.W. Fowler stated in the 1936 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, "Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong."

Glad we settled that, then. On to the Welsh Rabbit!

makeshift double-boiler
First, you'll need a double boiler or, in the true spirit of broke-ass ingenuity, you can make your own with a medium saucepan and a metal mixing bowl. Bring an inch or so of water to a boil in the saucepan and let the mixing bowl warm up.

a tablespoon or two
Carve off one tablespoon of butter...

...and add it to the mixing bowl.

one cup of booze
Once the butter is melting, round up a cup of beer or wine and add that to the bowl, too.

booze and butter
Warm the butter and beer, being sure to savor the exquisite, hedonistic aroma of warm, buttery booze. Try not to drink it.

While the liquid is warming, grate about three cups (or one pound) of a nice, sharp Cheddar.

sprinkle in cheese
Gradually add the cheese to the warm beer, stirring constantly with a fork until melted and fairly smooth.

whisk an egg
Now, quickly add one lightly beaten egg, one teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and some dry spices, which you'll want to have all pre-measured, like this...

...which will both prevent you from leaving your cheese unattended and make you feel like the host of your own low-to-medium budget Food Network show. The spices include a little sweet paprika, dry mustard, curry powder, salt and a pinch of cayenne.

whisking in spices
Whisk everything together and cook for about a minute, until the cheese sauce thickens slightly.

Grab some toasty, crusty slices of bread...

all in a row
...and pour your Rabbit sauce over the top. If you like pepper, why not go nuts and grind a little over the top? We're living now!

I like to serve Welsh Rabbit with a green salad and tart vinaigrette, you know, for health and as a palette cleanser during this...

...whole situation. This dish really does scratch some primal, juvenile itch, that craving for unadulterated hot cheese and warm bread, rich and sharp and crunchy and smooth all at once. The egg gives the sauce a particularly nice texture (just look at that ooze!) and the Worcestershire, curry, and mustard give it some surprising complexity. All this goodness after about five minutes of work!

And, above all, this recipe is absolutely perfect for all those rainy, lazy Sunday afternoons when you find yourself just fresh out of rabbit.

(Click here for print-ready recipe.)

Welsh Rabbit (or Rarebit)
Serves 4 to 6

3 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
1 T. butter
1 cup flat beer, ale, white wine, or champagne*
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. salt
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. dry mustard
1/4 t. curry powder
a pinch of ground red pepper
8 slices of toasted bread

Fill bottom of double boiler with an inch of water, bring to a boil. Melt butter in top of a double boiler. Add cup of beer (or wine) and heat until warm. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly with a fork until melted and smooth. Add egg, Worcestershire, salt, and dry spices. Cook sauce, stirring constantly, for one to two minutes, until sauce thickens slightly. Pour cheese over toast and serve.

*If you'd prefer not to use alcohol or don't have any alcohol on hand, you can substitute tomato juice for the beer and make a "Blushing Bunny." Very virtuous, still tasty.


  1. Interesting, I have never heard of leftover white wine -- or any spirit. Where might one procure that? *snort*

  2. Mel - I think I love you!

    Your gorgeous photos.

    Your yummy meal ideas - oh good grief - I will be making the chicken pot pie for sure - the Welsh Rabbit for husband and I.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog idea.

  3. Wow ... I always wondered what welsh rarebit was but never remembered to look it up. Now I know and in such beautiful photographs.
    So far, this site gets you two excited utensils up! I love this project.

  4. Mmmm yummy! I just came over from Mrs. G's, and this looks fabulous, and lazy, which is good for me!

  5. What a great blog idea! Everyone could use some good cheap recipes these days. I'm going to try Welsh Rabbit that I know it doesn't contain rabbit. Thanks!

  6. Oh Melanie! It's beautiful! Clearly, you were meant to do this blog!

    Also, I'm Welsh. Am officially offended.

  7. Oh, this blog will be a hit for sure.

    It's way classier than my food site.

  8. Also, wine and cheese together!! Are you trying to kill me, girl?

  9. Scooting up to the table from Mrs. G.'s. This looks so yummy and thanks for including the non-alcohol tip at the end. I'm such a lame teetotaler that it's nice to see the substitution.

  10. Well, you learn something every day! Good to know.

  11. Mrs. G led the way - and I hate to admit, but I am staying awhile....

  12. Leftover wine?

    The *only* time I've ever heard of Welsh Rabbit was on Looney Tunes! But now, I'll be giving it a shot. I'm having brunch for my girlfriends in a week and I think this'll be PERFECT!

    I love your site! I'm here from Derfwad's Manor.

  13. I'm so excited, your food has always looked so good! One tiny request: could you possibly attach some sort of printable recipe format? So that I don't have to keep running from my kitchen to my computer desk? I tend to burn things that way!

  14. What a awesome site! So glad Mrs. G pointed the way. Consider yourself bookmarked.

  15. I'm on weight watchers...this just is not fair. LOL That looks soooo yummy.


  16. YAY! It's sort of like a dream come true, your photography and food? I might faint. Rarebit reminds me of my Grandmother something fierce. She absolutely loved it, although she used bourbon in hers which seems odd. Guess my Gram liked a little "stronger" flavor?

  17. This is the very first dish I learned to make way back in Home Economics in the mid 60's!!

    I still love it. Anything made with melted cheese is good.

    Great looking blog! I'll visit a lot!

  18. This does sound like a wonderful comfort food. Congratulations on the new blog. Wishing you lots of success and yummy moments.

  19. Oh, my. And just when I was thinking of going vegan, too.

  20. Oooh yum. This looks heavenly.

    I will be back and often (thanks Mrs G).

    Oh and I do love Mrs G's Derwad theme page, especially the recent revamp in muted olive greens and browns. Looks fabu. And I like Johnny D in his more visible location!

  21. Thanks everyone so much for visiting!

    And, at Mary's great suggestion, I've added a print-ready PDF of the recipe.


  22. Oh yum! And do you KNOW how many grilled cheese sandwiches I ate on my trip to the east coast??

    Reality check--nobody cared about my vegetarian ass. So glad to be home in tofu world.

    I. am. making. this. today.

  23. Woo-hoo! My mom made this but with roux instead of booze. And we just called it cheese on toast. Who knew we were really being "international".

  24. If you really want to push the boat out, put a fried egg on top! This is called 'Buck Rarebit'.

  25. More beanpaste, ala beanplate.

    My cup runneth over, the market be damned.

  26. Awesome! I heart BOTH Melanie and cooking blogs. And with the economy in the shitter, what could BE a better idea? Yay! Don't forget to teach me how to make yummy biscuits. Comfort food in tough times, baby.

  27. That's Welsh Rarebit? Bossy learns something new every day. If she's lucky.

  28. i'm not the first to say it, but what is this "leftover wine" stuff? never heard of such a thing. :P

  29. I wish I were making this up, but it's true:

    I just salivated so much reading this post that I drooled. On my shirt.


  30. Here via Mrs G, here to stay because of your wit and recipes! You nearly lost me on the "past its prime booze" because there never is such a thin in our house. We drink every last drop. But you won me back when you wrote, "Warm the butter and beer, being sure to savor the exquisite, hedonistic aroma of warm, buttery booze. Try not to drink it." Amen, sister!

  31. Girl you rock. I can't wait to hunt me some wabbit!

  32. I love this blog -- and I hate cooking. But I feel moved, nay, compelled to try to murder Welsh Rabbit for dinner tomorrow night!

  33. You have recipes! I am delighted!
    Making Rabit with booze? Lot better than the flour and cheese powder my mom used to use!

  34. I will definitely try it--you make me feel like cooking.

  35. Hmmm...I wonder if sake would work...have some left over from---somewhere...will give it a shot! Your photos are beautiful...not just anyone can make food look as delicious as you do!

  36. So. Hungry. Must. Not. Eat. Computer. Screen. Which would probably not taste like Welsh anything, particularly Rabbit.

  37. I will do everything you say. And Stu will be happy. Joy in the land.

    You are a goddess.

  38. When I was in college at Ole Miss I had a cooking class and we made Welsh Rabbit. Will never forget learning to make this wonderful dish.

  39. I am not the first to write it, but this blog is a beautiful thing. Welsh Rabbit is a staple in our kitchen (and in my mother-in-law's kitchen) on Sunday evenings also, traditionally known as "dibs and dabs" dinner night. There's nothing quite like sitting around the old table, woodstove cranked to inferno, crusty bread and Welsh Rabbit and good, dark, English tea by the mugfuls. It's so great that you included this wonderful meal on your blog!

  40. I was skeptical that this would taste good, but my husband insisted that we try this. We loved it and so did our neighbors who came for dinner. This is definitely one we'll add to our regular rotation!

    Thank you!

  41. Yum! I made this for lunch today. I did it with wine but I can't wait to try this with a good beer.

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  43. Does this actually qualify as a cheap eat? A whole pound of good, sharp Cheddar cheese ... beer or wine ... these are not things I classify as "cheap". :/

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