Tuesday, 6 September 2011

rarebit redux

in mid august, o and i went to the seaside town of llandudno in wales. i was excited by the prospect that my other half would finally get the chance to eat a welsh rarebit. we had no such luck, not in llandudno and not even in nearby conwy. i thought perhaps asking a local might help but even the chef at the hotel where we had a lovely three course dinner one night said that the rarebit is extinct in llandudno, and as we discovered later, in colwyn. instead we found panini's all over the place. o teased me throughout the trip that the welsh rarebit was at best a figment of my imagination or something that babcia had concocted as part of our polish-english-pakistani tradition. 

rarebits (or more likely a variant thereof) had been a staple of my childhood. the one that i ate was a cheat version that babcia (my maternal grandmother) used to make for me. central to it was her orange toasted sandwich maker. i don't like using the sandwich makers of today because they get the ratio of the crimped edge to the cavity which holds the filling wrong. babcia's toasted sandwich maker had the barest crimp, just enough to seal the edges to hold the filing inside. her rarebit involved white bread spread thickly with nurpur butter. she would wait for the plates to be smoking hot which is when she'd put the bread slices buttered side on the plate, then add thick slices of cheddar cheese and perhaps some left over chicken roast. then she'd clamped the sandwich maker tightly so that the cheese would melt with the heat and the butter would seep into the bread turning its face golden brown. plated and cut into half the liquid cheese would seep so quickly that despite scalding the tips of my fingers i'd hold the halved sandwich to let a superficial crust form on cut edge to contain the cheese. so in love was i with babcia's rarebits that i even wrote about them at university for the family section of the guardian

i know that the original rarebit is quite different. it is a savoury sauce of melted cheese made rich by the addition of eggs, put on toasted bread and then browned under a grill.  most traditional recipes include worcestershire sauce and ale/beer.  i always wondered how the term welsh rarebit came about. it turns out that it is an 'etymologizing alteration', basically a corruption of the term welsh rarebit which was first used in 1725, although no-one quite knows how the term came about. there is some speculation that it was a reference to poor man's food by way of english analogy. for the english, rabbit was poor man's meat and for the welsh, cheese was equivalent to meat hence the welsh rabbit. 

whatever the origin, welsh rarebits hold their own in the league of (cooked) cheese sandwiches the likes of croque monsieur and madame. i call my redux rarebit a lazy rarebit because it does not involve a sauce base. instead it uses some artisan bread, sea salted brittany butter, mature cheddar and beetroot chutney from brixton cornercopia toasted in a pan. 

{m's lazy redux rarebit}

serves one
two medium slices of good quality bread; i used gail's sultana and fennel sourdough.
a generous amount of butter; i use sea salted brittany butter
slices of mature cheddar cheese
a chutney of your choice; i used beetroot chutney from brixton cornercopia

start with the heavily buttering the slices of bread. don't skimp on the butter as the bread has to be toasted in a frying pan and you want it to brown nicely without getting burnt. just a small note here. avoid slicing the bread too thick. if you do that it will be difficult for the heat to reach the cheese and it won't melt. 

turn over and spread one side with beetroot chutney then top with the slices of cheddar cheese. i like a fair bit of cheese. 

heat a frying pan large enough to accommodate the sandwich. the heat should be medium. toast each side for around two minutes, watching it carefully to make sure that it doesn't over-brown.

when it is done, put it on a plate and tuck in. 

1 comment:

  1. Sounds really good . . . even the beetroot chutney (not my favourite usually!) Love the idea of the fennel sourdough. BTW, in the olden days, they also used to make it by using a cheese sauce flavoured with beer!