What is Welsh rarebit?

Welsh Rarebit - Toasted bread with melted cheddar cheese
A classic dish, but how much do you know about it?
Image source: Getty images.

You’ve probably heard about it, but did you know that the delicious treat known as Welsh rarebit has its own day to celebrate its greatness? A classic that has graced many a plate, there’s more to know about this cheesy delicacy than meets the eye. It might be considered a national dish to Wales, but its influence has been seen across the globe.

Why is it called Welsh Rarebit?

There seems to be a bit of debate as to whether the original name of this savoury dish actually is Welsh rarebit, or Welsh rabbit. The most popular story is that the name originated as Welsh rabbit. The word ‘rabbit’ was a play on the fact that the average Welshman was too poor to afford meat, so used cheese instead. Some believe that the name devolved from this over time to become Welsh rarebit as it is today.

The alternative origin story is that this was a dish that the English created a long time ago, and dubbed it “Welsh” rarebit to poke fun at their neighbours across the border. Back in the 18th century when the dish was gaining popularity, dubbing something as “Welsh” was implying it to be inferior or fake. Therefore the term “Welsh rarebit” suggested that this cheesy dish was the closest the Welsh could get to having meat for dinner.

Wherever it originally came from, the Welsh’s love of cheese has ensured that Welsh rarebit has become a staple throughout the centuries.

Another popular story, albeit nothing to do with the name, is that the Welsh were causing a ruckus up in heaven, and in an attempt to get rid of them, St Peter shouted “Caws pobi!” (Welsh for toasted cheese) outside the pearly gates. The Welsh ran out at the mention of their favourite delicacy, and the gates were shut behind them.

How do you make Welsh Rarebit?

Welsh rarebit
Why not try and make some Welsh rarebit?
Image source: Worm That Turned [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)].
This special dish is a little more than simply cheese on toast as most people assume. Some recipes vary, but most include some form of alcohol like ale or cider, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and some mustard. The best way to discover what all the fuss is about, is to try your hand at making it yourself!

-4 slices of bread
-4 tablespoons of beer, ale, or milk
-250g of strong cheddar cheese
-2 tablespoons of butter
-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
-2 teaspoons of mustard
-2 tablespoons of flour
-Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the butter, flour, Worcestershire sauce, three quarters of the cheese, and mustard in a saucepan.

Add the beer, ale, or milk to the mixture to give it a little bit more moisture. Stir on a gentle heat until the mixture has become a thickish paste.

Toast the bread, then spread the rarebit mixture on top. Add the remainder of the cheese, and put the rarebit under a hot grill to toast until brown.

Serve and enjoy! If you want to add a bit of variety to your Welsh rarebit, why not try using different mustards, strengths of cheeses, or varieties of beer to see which combination tastes best!

A global treat!

A Cubanos, or Cuban sandwich, has its origins in Welsh rarebit.
Image source: Getty images.

Welsh rarebit hasn’t just stayed at home in Wales – there are many different variations that have travelled the globe. Neighbours to Wales, England and Scotland, also have their own versions. English rarebit is a slice of toasted bread topped with a glass of red wine and cheese, which is then grilled. The Scottish version includes bread that has been toasted on both sides, as well as cheese that has been toasted on both sides, then placed on the bread. Or to transform your Welsh rarebit into a buck’s rabbit, simply place an egg on top.

The original and classic cheesy recipe made it’s away across the border to France where it is dubbed simply le Welsh. There are of course other recipes which could arguably be derived from Welsh rarebit: croque monsieur, a ham and cheese sandwich that has been baked or fried. Cubanos, a sandwich where the bread is first heated before the addition of the ingredients, and then heated again. The American grilled cheese sandwich, which we would more likely call a toastie over here in Britain.

Who knew that one humble dish’s influence would travel so far?

Feeling inspired?

A Welsh rabbit, or Welsh rarebit - a mix of cheddar cheese and egg with mustard, pepper and salt on toast. A traditional snack from Wales.
Try your hand at this classic dish!
Image source: Getty images.

Celebrate your inner Welshman with some lovely Welsh rarebit, a spot of Calon Lan, and a pint of Welsh ale. Why not try your hand with the recipe above, or take a look at some other Welsh classics to get you inspired! Do you know of any traditional dishes that are more than meets the eye? Tell us about them on our Facebook page!

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