Any time Welsh Rarebit comes up in conversation (at least once in my life), my dad will make a joke to the effect of “nice, apart from the big ears.” Easy, perhaps, but it goes down well enough. Consider my surprise when I discovered today that the original name of the dish was “rabbit”, and is intended to be a joke. Not sure I fully understand it – perhaps you had to be there…in the 18th century? In any case, the dish itself may not even be Welsh in origin – seems to be a joke at the expense of the Welsh! Makes a change from lazy sheep references.
For those who are unaware, rarebit is a bit like a croque monsieur, inasmuch as it’s hyped-up cheese on toast. In this case, a cheese and alcohol-based thick sauce grilled atop toast. An open fondue sandwich. Wine and beer are the typical go-tos, but in the spirit of the season I decided to give it a bit of a wintery twist. I certainly feel as though recent years have helped people to embrace the brilliant partnership of cheese and sweeter flavours – more adventurous fruit pairings, a smattering of candied ginger or orange-zest too. That’s what I hoped to bring forward in this dish – dry apples and spice alongside cheese (in my case, smoked cheddar, but any hard cheese will do.)
Ingredients (approx 1-2 servings)
- Handful of strong hard grated cheese (I used smoked Cheddar)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 500ml bottle of cider
- Cinnamon stick
- Small handful cloves
- 2-3 Cardamoms, lightly crushed with the side of a knife
- Fresh nutmeg
- Sprinkling salt
- 1 tsp grainy mustard
- Fresh thyme to serve
- A few slices bread
- Simmer the cider with the spices (including a small grating of nutmeg in a saucepan for 10 minutes, then remove the spices.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook until it has stopped fizzing. Add the flour and whisk into a roux, cooking on low for a minute or two.
- Pour in the spiced cider and whisk well until you have a thick sauce. Turn off the heat and add the cheese a bit at a time, stirring it through until it melts (turn on low-heat if it doesn’t seem to be melting). If it seems too thin/not cheesy enough, add more until it’s to your liking. Stir through the mustard and grate in a little more nutmeg until the balance of flavours is to your liking – season with salt if necessary. It should be thick enough that it can be dolloped onto bread without just running off.
- Toast your bread on one side under the grill (broiler) until it’s nicely browned, then remove and turn over.
- Add a dollop to the centre of the bread slices on the un-toasted side, and spread thinly at first, leaving a few millimetres around the outside. Spoon on more sauce until you have a pleasantly thick covering and grill until it’s browned and bubbling. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme and serve immediately.