Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Welsh Rarebit

The weather's been grim these last few weeks, the rain, the wind, the cold, the cold winds, the windy rain, the cold rainy wind, ok I'll stop there. It has an effect though, looking out of the office window at 5pm and it's already pitch black, fighting through dark sopping wet pavements filled with people huddled up against the cold, heads down, minds anywhere except the unpleasant present. My mind is usually on what I'm going to eat next and the more shitty the weather, the more deeply my imagination voyages into warm steamy comfort food territory.

One thing in particular had been on my mind over the last couple of weeks but what with the various pies, stews, slow-roasts and fish & chips that had been crowding my rather short-range radar recently it hadn't got a look in. After 2 steps out of the office this evening my hair was sodden, my whole head icy wind-whipped, my shoes full of freezing puddle launched sideways by taxis and buses and my body temperature had plummeted right down into regions that required emergency cheese-on-toast.

Welsh rarebit is not just cheese on toast, however. Well, technically it has cheese in it and it's on toast but it's a lot more than that, which is why this evening found me with the rain rattling against the windows and the wind shaking bits off the building outside whilst I was happily pottering about in my warm kitchen making a few glorious gooey, savoury, crunchy slabs of spicy rib-sticking comforting orgasmic pleasure. I'm not serious of course, no-one really had an orgasm during the eating, despite what the noises might lead you to believe.

Welsh rarebit - I'm not getting into the rabbit/rarebit debate, I find rarebit hard enough to cope with, calling it a rabbit is just weird - is effectively cheese melted with beer, mustard, worcestershire sauce and spices into a thick sauce spread on toast and grilled into a bubbling crackling finish. There is actually cooking involved (not a whole lot, admittedly), and then you leave the mixture to set before carving out slabs to spread on toast and grilling it to melting popping perfection under a grill. The bread's important here, use a proper loaf of proper white bread, not some plastic wonderbread nonsense or wholemeal coated in pumpin seeds etc.

You'll need:
  • knob of butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • cayenne pepper, paprika (either/or/both, I like both) 1 tsp each
  • Worcestershire sauce - good long glug
  • mustard powder 1 tsp (or just mustard is fine, about 2 tsp)
  • beer/stout 200ml (Guinness is popular, I used Meantime London Stout because it comes in bigger bottles than Guinness so there's more left to drink, and it's delicious)
  • Strong cheddar grated 400g (by 'strong' I mean weapons grade, I used Montgomery Cheddar)
Melt the butter in a pan, once it's on its way stir in the flour. Once that's starting to smell biscuity stir in the spices, then the mustard powder/mustard and once they're living happily together pour in the beer/stout and the worcestershire sauce. Bring it back up to a simmer and start melting the cheese into it a handful at a time. Once all the cheese is melted in, give it another minute's simmering then pour into a shallow dish and leave it to set:

You can see I just used a wide bowl here to set mine, whatever you've got to hand is fine, it's a pretty hard recipe to ruin. Once the mixture has cooled and set to reasonably firm consistency (about half an hour-ish) heat up the grill, make some toast then slice/spoon the mixture on top in about a 1cm thick layer:

Place under a hot grill for a few minutes until the it's bubbling away and taken on some colour. There will probably be gooey bits sliding down the side of the toast as it cooks. This is fine.

One of the pleasures of this dish is that it's never quite the same - I've never actually measured how much of anything I've put in it, and the ingredients vary according to what's on hand. This time round it was a little bit sloppier than usual (too much beer/not enough cheddar/not enough simmering after the cheese went in/playing the Clash too loudly whilst I made it? I don't know.) If I've got some parmesan lying around maybe I'll grate some on top before it goes under the grill. I prefer it with mustard powder but this time I only had Dijon to hand and in all the excitement of trying to remember to take photos I forgot to add any paprika and put it under a stone cold grill. But hey, guess what? It was still freaking delicious (once the sodding grill heated up), a lot of fun and very satisfying to make (always) and washed down with a good glass of red wine was just what was needed to cheer up a miserable, cold, wet night.

photo of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch train station courtesy of jonny2love
the rest are all my fault

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