You all know I love cheese, so how could I not love Welsh Rarebit: an utterly British dish of toasty bread slathered with rich melted cheese thinned with ale then broiled. I first tried this dish on a pub crawl during a sojourn to London, but I’d heard of it years earlier, when I was a kid. I still remember the place I first heard of Welsh Rarebit—it was of course the place where one usually hears of Welsh Rarebit: The Gomer Pyle TV Show.
Admit it, you watched it. We all did. We didn’t know any better back then. Well, there was this one episode where Gomer started sleepwalking and doing crazy things (well, crazy for Gomer) like yelling at his Sergeant and generally not being himself. It turned out that the cause of all this was that he had been eating Welsh Rarebit every day for dinner. Apparently there’s been a long-standing belief that eating Welsh Rarebit causes strange dreams.
Where did that come from? How could melted cheese on toast cause strange dreams?
To the Internet, Robin! Turns out that there was a very weird comic strip in the early part of the 1900s that was called Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. This strip, which prefigured The Far Side by three-quarters of a century, presented the bizarre, surreal dreams of people who had eaten Welsh Rarebit before bed.
This strip was apparently the source of the notion that Rarebit causes weird dreams. The author of the strip (Winsor McCay) originally drew a one-shot comic strip called Dream of the Tobacco Fiend. His Editor liked it, but apparently he didn’t want to offend the tobacco fiends of the world, thus he suggested McCay replace the word ‘tobacco’ with something completely innocuous and innocent. Their choice: Welsh Rarebit. I have to admit that the juxtaposition is funny because of its absurdity. But of course Rarebit got a weird reputation ever since.
Well, reputation be dammed! This is a delicious dish that one shouldn’t miss.
Welsh Rarebit, dispite the ‘Welsh’ moniker, is not from Wales (my ancestral homeland, no less) but in fact the dish is quintessentially English. The name may have originally been ‘Welsh Rabbit;’ it is speculated that this was either a slight against the Welsh in that they couldn’t afford a real rabbit, and that they had a supposed fondness for cheese.
4 Tablespoons Butter
1/4 Cup Flour
2 Tablespoons Dry English Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
12 Oz Beer (Preferably an English Ale or Bitter)
2 Cups Cheddar, Grated
3 or more Slices of Crusty Bread, Toasted
Melt Butter in a large skillet.
When it has melted, sift in the flour
and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the Cayenne
and the English Mustard.
Add the Worcestershire Sauce
and then the beer.
Allow this to simmer for a few minutes,
then add your cheese.
Stir over medium heat until the cheese is melted.
Toast your bread slightly (not too dark, as it’s going back under the broiler in a moment with the cheese) You can use slices of ‘white bread’ if you want, but I find some nice slices of baguette or Italian bread work best, and make a nicer presentation.
Slather the toasted bread with the cheese sauce.
Make sure you cover the tops of the bread slices completely.
Place the slices under the broiler. Keep a close eye on them. Pull ‘em out when just start to turn golden brown and bubbly.
Serve immediately, but watch out, they’ll be hot.
Until next time,