Welsh rarebit is a traditional British dish which is made by ladling a thick cheese sauce over toast, and then briefly toasting the two together so that the cheese sauce turns thick and bubbling. There are a variety of different ways to make Welsh rarebit; some cooks, for example, skip the sauce step and just broil toast with cheese slices and a splash of Worcestershire or chili sauce, and others make it with crackers. This dish can be eaten at any time, and it makes a popular midnight snack in some households, where a bowl of the rarebit sauce may be kept handy so that the dish can be made quickly.
According to folk legend, Welsh rarebit was originally “Welsh rabbit,” and it was meant to cast aspersions on the Welsh, who allegedly were not very adept at catching rabbits. Over time, “rabbit” became “rarebit,” perhaps spurred by a desire for political correctness, and the dish made its way into the English repertoire from Welsh kitchens.
This dish is most certainly Welsh in origin, with written evidence suggesting that it dates back to at least the 1700s. The Welsh are famously fond of cheese, and they were allegedly among the first to use cheese cooked in various prepared dishes. As a result, some people have suggested that the original name for this dish, “Welsh rabbit,” was meant to be a friendly gibe at the Welsh, who might prefer eating cheese to eating rabbit in some situations.
A basic rarebit sauce is made by melting cheese with milk or cream, adding a dash of beer, and seasoning the mixture before pouring it over toast. Other cooks prefer to start with a roux to give the sauce more body and a toasted flavor, sprinkling in spices like cayenne, mustard, and pepper before adding ale and finally cheese. After a few minutes of slow whisking, the sauce should even and thicken, at which point Worcestershire sauce can be added and then the sauce may be refrigerated for later use, or spread on toast and broiled for a few minutes for the desired bubbly consistency.
Far from simple cheese on toast, a good plate of Welsh rarebit is savory, spicy, rich, and layered with flavor, and cooks may also add things like grilled tomatoes or boiled eggs to their Welsh rarebit for some extra flavor and body. Most cooks also recommend using really good bread, as the dish can be ruined by spongy, poorly made bread with an indifferent texture.