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I Say It's Wabbit Season
By John Havel

Rarebit, Welsh rarebit, or Welsh rabbit, is traditionally a sauce made from a mixture of cheese and butter, poured over toasted bread which has been buttered. An English dish, it is normally made with Cheddar cheese, in contrast to the Continental European fondue which classically depends on Swiss cheeses and of which Welsh rabbit was a local variant.

The first recorded use of the term Welsh rabbit was in 1725, but the origin of the term is uncertain. It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese.

Creative application by various chefs has led to the term rarebit being used for a variety of other dishes comprising cheese on toasted bread, a notable example being buck rarebit which has a poached egg added, either on top of or beneath the cheese sauce. Because such variants depend only on the creativity of chefs, the list of names is endless.

The ingredients here are very simple, as the cheese itself is the star. Traditionally a good rarebit was enhanced by the addition of wine, ale, or beer, mustard, salt or pepper. In its later American forms, eggs and milk replaced the wine and ales, perhaps because of the dish's place in family suppers. Likewise blends of mild and strong cheeses were suggested to balance flavor and meltability, and thereby approached the white and bland character dictated by the culinary ideals of the day.

Because of it's simplicity, you want to use the finest ingredients; primarily the sharpest cheese available. As for the toast the English were serious about their toasts, one of the key culinary forms of their early cookery. They did various kinds of toasting calculated to bring out appropriate textures and flavors, according to a recipe's requirements.

This also makes a very tasty cheese sauce. It's fantastic with fresh vegetables and grilled meats alike. You can also use it in macaroni and cheese or as a fondue.

Welsh Rarebit
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup dark beer
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups extra sharp shredded Cheddar
dash of cayenne pepper
4 slices toasted rye bread

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth. Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth. Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Add cayenne. Pour over toast and serve immediately.

Music By John Havel


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