Welsh Rarebit – toasted cheese with a delicious twist

When I come across the name of a dish that is unusual, especially if the name bears little resemblance to the dish itself, I simply have to discover its origin.

I talked last week about my lifelong obsession with cheese. It’s of no surprise then that toasted cheese is one of my special standbys. It’s what I turn to when I need something delicious and comforting but can’t be bothered to cook.

But if I’m making toasted cheese and are prepared to offer a tad more effort it becomes Welsh rarebit. What, you may ask, does a name like that have to do with toasted cheese? There are a few theories floating around and no apparent definitive answer as to how it came to be in its present form.

It’s thought that the Welsh love of toasted cheese – which dates back centuries – may be how their name became attached to the dish. Rarebit clearly started out life as rabbit – an ironic name given to a dish that had nothing to do with rabbit but more to do with the practice of cooking without meat when it was unaffordable. Perhaps the eventual change of the name to rarebit was to rid the dish of its peasant status once it became more popular. Maybe we’ll never know the true story.

But a fact not in doubt is that creativity is not a modern thing in the kitchen. There was much creativity needed to serve up dishes that stretched a little meat out to feed many or replace meat entirely.

But I can tell you that this dish is far from unsatisfying even taking into account the absence of rabbit or meat of any kind. It’s the kind of thing you feel like eating when you’ve had a hellish day and need something to soothe and comfort. Something that has you in and out of the kitchen quickly so you can put your feet up and enjoy an evening that melts away the stresses of the day.

Welsh rarebit is that dish. It also makes a fabulous lunch.

I mentioned in a comment to one of my fellow bloggers a couple of days ago that I consider anything starting with a roux to have great possibilities. Welsh rarebit only backs up that belief. Unlike a regular béchamel or cheese sauce the liquid used here is beer. Stout or ale is best. But if you’d prefer to use regular milk that’s fine.

Now for the cheese. Last week I went for a cheddar and this week I’m sticking with it. I suppose cheddar represents cheese as I remember it as a child – sharp and crumbly and what my mother used to grate into her very excellent macaroni cheese. Please don’t use a mild cheese here – it simply won’t have the strength of flavour to carry the dish. Cheese is the star and for good reason. A good cheddar melted and scorched under the grill – it’s a beautiful thing.

The bread. Treat yourself and get in a loaf of good sourdough. You need a bread that will cope with the weight of the sauce.

I’ve deviated from the traditional mustard powder and gone for a dollop of Dijon mustard but this is more to do with the fact that it’s what I always have to hand. Dijon is my absolute favourite. But English mustard is the traditional choice. If you are using mustard powder I would add this with the flour at the beginning when you’re making the roux.

And finally . . . last week I posted a recipe for my homemade tomato relish. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to open the pantry and see my preserved jars of this deliciousness just waiting to be popped open. But of course I’m already powering through it and onto my second jar. It’s so versatile and absolutely perfect with the Welsh rarebit. And not just to serve alongside – I smear the sourdough with it before adding my cheese mixture.

Welsh Rarebit

 This mixture is enough for four generous slices of sourdoughfullsizerender_1


  • 25g butter
  • 25g flour
  • 125 ml beer, warmed (or milk)
  • 100g grated cheese, a good strong cheddar
  • 1 tsp Dijon (or English) mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Loaf of sourdough bread
  • Jar of tomato relish (you won’t need the whole jar)


  1. Pre-heat the grill of your oven. I usually put mine to 200-220°C.
  2.  Add the butter to a pan on a low-medium heat. Once melted add the flour and stir in well until you have a thick paste. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring the whole time to cook off the flour.
  3. Slowly add the beer, a little at a time, until you have a thick, but smooth sauce. There should be a light simmer as you’re adding the beer.
  4. Once you’re happy with the consistency add the grated cheese and stir through until it has melted. The sauce will now more resemble a paste. It should be thick but smooth.
  5. Take off the heat and add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce along with a grinding of black pepper and stir through well.
  6. Leave while you slice the bread. Make sure the slices are reasonably thick. Place on a foil lined tray and then under the grill until one side is toasted and golden. Turn the slices over and spread a good layer of tomato relish on the untoasted side. Now spoon a good dollop of the rarebit mixture on top of the relish and carefully smooth out – make sure you go right to the edges.
  7. Put the tray back under the grill and watch as the rarebit mixture starts to bubble and burnish. It happens quickly so watch closely.
  8. Serve with a spoonful of tomato relish on the side. I also like a few drops of Tobasco sauce for an extra kick.



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