A part of the cooking with beer series, a classic Welsh dish supposedly invented in the fourteenth century. Really quite simple, the most controversial bit about the dish is the name. Tradition has it that the alternative, Welsh Rabbit, was first coined by a Welsh cook who ran out of Rabbit and had to make do, and that this eventually became Rarebit. This is, of course, foolish. Either way, delicious. You'll need:

250g or so of aged cheddar
1 tablespoon of butter
1 cup of beer - ale or lager
1 egg
dash of Worcestershire sauce
salt
paprika
mustard powder

Melt the butter in a pan and add the beer, adding the grated cheddar when the beer is warm. Stir until the cheddar melts, then add the beaten egg. Season with about 1/2 a teaspoon each of the Worcestershire sauce, salt, paprika, and mustard powder. Also a sprinkling of curry powder and red pepper, if you want.

Serve the sauce over toasted bread, crackers, or grilled tomatoes; great for light supper or brunch.

In America, Welsh ra(re)b{b}it, was quite the fad food in the 1930's. Well into the 70's, versions crept into spa and 'health food' cookbooks as a healthy lunch, supper, or light dinner, with various ideas on how to make the bread part less carborific. Sunday suppers, as a popular form of entertainment, often featured WR, and there are even extant linens (with little bunnies on them) for dressing up the bread basket, which stood next to the electric toaster, chafing dish, and coffee pot on the buffet. Somehow, WR, a few friends, mellow music, and some warm mild drinks, just seems to suggest the end of the weekend -- a gentle end to the party, and a fine last hurrah to the revelry before the workweek begins, with cats and babies crawling around everyone's heels, and newlings playing with blocks in the front room...

As above, the basic recipe is melted cheddar cheese, liquid (beer, milk, water, vermouth..), Spice (mustard, Worcestershire, Tobasco, paprika, minced garlic) and a coagulant (which needn't be an egg -- I've used cornstarch or arrowroot, mostly, though you could use roux). You want a little thicker than usual cheese sauce, and split common cracker or sea biscuit is just as good as bread...

Anyway, one of the intriguing parts of WR cookery, at least its American guise, is the toppings that you can use to vary the dish. Here are some I've tried:

  • chopped olives (green or black)
  • bacon bits (real or fake)
  • Hamburger, sausage or soy crumbles, browned (Yes, cat, you CAN haz Cheeseburger!)
  • chopped boiled egg
  • ham or SPAM cubelets, or hot dogs cut into rounds and fried in a little butter
  • chopped rogue pepper (a "rogue" pepper is a crossbreed between two more distinct varieties. Cheap at farmer's markets, cooking with them is truly An Adventure In Every Bite)
  • Chow mein noodles
  • Asparagus, cauliflower, or broccoli, steamed, and cut small
  • Lentil, wheat, or other sprouts
  • Microgreens of various kinds
  • Chopped green onions
  • Tomatoes, chopped, likewise
  • Marinated, raw or sauteed thinly-sliced mushrooms
  • Cooked and boned chicken, cut small
  • Hulled sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Thinly sliced or chopped tart apple
  • Sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans, or mixed nuts (chop coarsely in blender)
  • Raisins or other dried fruit (Although if you're serving a Waldorf Salad, leave the last three out. Enough is enough.)
Some, more seafood-oriented people have reported that tuna, shrimp, or other leftover firm shellfish is a good thing (though why you'd have leftover lobster is a mystery). Salsa fans should find this a no-brainer. Other people consider a lavish grinding of black pepper a Good Thing on this too. Good sides are celery, spicy nuts, olives, pickles, little pretzels, crudites or the aformentioned Waldorf Salad, rarita, gaspacho or its gringo cousin, tomato aspic. Coffee, tea, cocoa, even strong bouillon (in cups with lemon) are traditional: if you feel you must offer other drink, ale, a well-peppered Bloody Mary (even a virgin variety), or a glass of Port, either by itself, or to cook plums or prunes (with a stick of cinnamon, a twist of lemon peel, and a couple cloves) goes down very well with this. Another fruity side -- halved, cored pears in Sherry, baked just till soft (with an almond in the hole). I might even go so far as to insinuate a bit of grapefruit -- as juice or just-broiled sections -- with raw sugar and a dash of Angostura as well. Bon appetit, and have a safe trip home, and a good week.

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