Since it contains not a skerrick of rabbit, it seems fair to ask how this molten, piquant form of cheese on toast (also known as rarebit) came by its name. Doing so will lead you into a warren of theories, starting with one from English food authority Jane Grigson, who surmised that to the Welsh, cheese on toast was as fine a treat as a bite of bunny.
Oxford Dictionaries’ OxfordWord blog takes us further down this particular rabbit hole, recounting a 14th-century tale in which some Welsh people in heaven were causing problems. “In order to get rid of them St Peter went outside the Pearly Gates and shouted “Caws pobi” (Welsh for “toasted cheese”)—whereupon all the Welsh rushed out and the gates were shut on them.”
The folk at OxfordWord suggest it’s likely that the dish derived its name from a patronising 17th- and 18th-century attitude towards Wales; the adjective “Welsh” was applied to items that were inferior or a substitute for the real thing: to use a “Welsh comb” meant combing one’s hair with one’s fingers.
Wales was poor compared to its neighbour England, and rabbit was cheap and easily trapped; some suggest that this dish got its name from the notion that a Welshman could not afford even the cheapest of meats.
The variant “rarebit” came later. “Rarebit,” explains OxfordWord, “has continued to be preferred up to the present day by those who apparently find honest-to-goodness rabbit slightly vulgar. The French, incidentally, who admire the dish, get round the problem in their usual pragmatic way by calling it simply “le Welsh.”
Whether you’re a humble rabbit eater or a posh rarebit type, this is an inviting supper for two that can be easily multiplied into a light meal for many. It hits the spot served alongside a bottle or three of whatever craft beer or stout you’ve used to spike the cheesy, mustardy mix.
- Heat the grill and toast the bread on one side only. Set aside.
- Set up the Thermomix so it’s all ready to go with the MC out. Start the blades running at speed 6 and add the chunks of cheese through the hole in the lid. Stop the blades after 10 seconds; the cheese should now be nicely grated.
- Scrape down the bowl and add the mustard, beer, butter and Worcestershire sauce. Cook 3 minutes/50 degrees/speed soft, the cheese should all be melted.
- Add the egg yolks and stir 5 seconds/speed 2.
- Allow the mixture to cool slightly then spread on the untoasted sides of the bread.
- Toast under the grill until bubbling and nicely browned. Serve immediately.
AND … Serving your “rabbits” alongside a platter of sliced ham and a bowl of green salad will turn them into a simple but satisfying meal. Or, for brunch with a bang, serve with a poached egg on top–that’s a Welsh Buck.