The unsung hero of British cuisine

  • 24 March 2015 | Roela Hattingh
Welsh rarebit with an egg on top. Image courtesy of Jiel Beaumadier/Wikipedia

Make your guests feel welcome with the unsung hero of British cuisine – Welsh rarebit.

Some people describe British cuisine as ‘unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it'; others call it bland.

Its influence in societies all over the world, however, is evident – think fish and chips, cauliflower cheese, pie and gravy, roast beef and horseradish, leg of lamb with mint, Christmas pies, and cake, shortbread, afternoon tea and scones.

However, bubble and squeak, mushy peas, haggis, neeps and tatties, and rhubarb crumble have never quite made the international A-list as the abovementioned dishes have.

However, there is one humble dish that could do with international fame: Welsh rarebit (or in Welsh, caws bobi). It can be served for breakfast, a light lunch or supper (just add a salad or soup), as an in-betweener and even as a canapé with sundowners.

What you don’t need for this dish (its name might suggest otherwise), though, is rabbit. This, apparently, is because calling anything Welsh in the 17th and 18th centuries was a patronising epithet for a substitute of the real thing – for example, a Welsh comb was to comb one’s hair with one’s fingers.

The first record of the word comes in John Byrom’s Literary Remains (1725): ‘I did not eat of cold beef, but of Welsh rabbit and stewed cheese.’

Welsh rarebit is actually a delicious, buttery cheese sauce made with a bit of beer, mustard and a dash of Worcestershire sauce (itself a wonderful story of Lea & Perrins). It’s ladled onto toast and then grilled for a minute or so.

Have a look below for recipes and more info. It’s easy to make and is a welcome change to bacon and eggs.