Welsh Rarebit Bites

No one is 100% sure where the term for “Welsh Rarebit,” a dish consisting of toast covered in cheese sauce, quite came from. One thing’s for certain, though: The Welsh were probably being made fun of. The phrase originally used in the 18th century was “Welsh Rabbit,” and the consensus seems to be that there is some sarcasm at play. The Welsh were notoriously poor, and in the 1700’s, all but the most poverty-stricken English families could at least afford rabbit. The term “Welsh Rabbit” is an ironic one, used to indicate that only the lowly Welsh were so poor that they would have to eat cheese sauce, in place of meat.

Were, then, did the “rarebit” come from? No one’s really sure of that, either. The suggestion has been that the term “Welsh Rabbit” was causing so much confusion among customers who didn’t fully understand the slur, and were wondering where the rabbit they had just ordered was, that the term had to be modified. I have also read that “rarebit” was coined long after the dish’s creation, in an attempt to make a peasant dish seem more sophisticated.

These are problems, though, for linguists and grammarians to chuckle smugly over at their terrifically boring dinner parties. My concerns about this dish are much more direct: Now that the weather is finally warming up, how can I possibly justify eating hot cheese sauce for lunch?

In my family growing up, this was a solidly Wintertime dish. My mom would make piles of sourdough toast, layer the toast with bacon and big, fat slices of tomato, and ladle cups and cups of hot, bubbling cheese on top. It was hearty, satisfying fare; food that should really only be eaten by someone who has just been shoveling snow for two hours. I wanted to lighten it up, miniaturize it, and make it suitable for any season or even as an hors d’oeuvre for a party. Some experimenting led me to this recipe. It uses much, much less cheese sauce, which makes it a much lighter dish; or at least, as light as pouring cheese on top of bacon can possibly be. The taste of mustard, beer, and cheddar cheese is still every bit as present, and combines wonderfully with salty, super thick-cut bacon and the freshness of chopped tomatoes and green onions.

Welsh Rarebit Bites
Adapted from a recipe on Chow. Makes 16 appetizer-sized rounds

Ingredients:

  • 1 French baguette, cut into slices
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter (1/4 stick)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 8 ounces good cheddar, grated or chopped
  • 3/4 cup Guinness beer
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound super thick-cut bacon (about 8 slices)
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 green onions, sliced

Method:

  1. In a medium skillet, cook bacon until crisp, turning often, about 12-14 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Slowly add flour, stirring constantly, and cook over medium heat until toasted, about three minutes. Add cheese, beer, Worcestershire, mustard, paprika, and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and smooth, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Brush each baguette round with olive oil and arrange on baking sheet. Broil until bread just begins to toast and turn brown.
  4. To assemble, place 1/2 strip of bacon on each slice of bread, and drizzle with 1 1/2 – teaspoons of the hot cheese sauce, until it begins to flow over the edges of each piece of toast. Top with chopped tomato and sliced green onion, and serve immediately.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed “Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road,” as well as the taco-centric blog “Eat More Tacos,” and the junk food-centric “Spork & Barrel.” His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, “‘Wich, Please,” was named “Hottest Restaurant in Maine” for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

5 Comments

  1. This sounds delicious. Without the bacon (and with a nice side of spinach), something like this is my plan for dinner tonight.

    Almost as important, though:

    These are problems, though, for linguists and grammarians to chuckle smugly over at their terrifically boring dinner parties.

    I’m sure there are some dull linguists out there (and I’m not even going to argue on behalf of prescriptivist grammarians), but for whatever reason, I have yet to meet a linguist who isn’t a hoot-and-a-half.

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    1. Without. the. bacon?

      Okay, okay. As long as the cheese sauce stays intact.

      And you’re right; I’m not sure why I felt I had to disparage the Language Studies community.

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  2. This is one of my husband’s favorite things that I make for him. We use 100% rye bread for the toasts, and set them on top of the rarebit, which we eat like soup. He’s half welsh, so I think he has a fondness for it in the way that my Italian self has a fondness for a good tomato sauce. We’re both linguists at heart (he was an english major, after all) and do muse over the name and the poor status of the Welsh, who get poked fun at a bit in this dish.

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  3. Long before the aforementioned confusion arose, we would have Welsh Rabbit for dinner/supper occasionally. And on other occasions, my mother would make a similar dish which included tomato soup (Campbell’s, of course) and its name was “Blushing Bunny”!

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