As I made this recipe for yet another brunch yesterday, I got to thinking about how I learned to make Rarebit.
Growing up, this was one of my Dad's favourite meals to experiment with. I'm sure he started with a traditional Welsh Rarebit recipe - the one with stout - but he also tried every kind of beer, and milk, light cream, heavy cream, sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt, wine, and even apple juice. The other variant was the type of cheese. He played with mild, medium or old Canadian cheddars, English cheddar, gruyere, Emmental and more. Dad served the rarebit over English muffins, crumpets, toasted rye, sourdough, French and whole wheat bread. He sometime snuck a piece of ham or bacon in there too. He could make this recipe with whatever was in the fridge and pantry.
What Dad taught me was how to adapt the recipe to the circumstances by using my senses - mostly sight, smell, touch and taste - to judge. We never used a recipe. In fact, as I thought about writing this post, I looked up Rarebit recipes for the first time in my life!
Here's how I do it: I use a heavy, but small, saucepan over low heat. I start with about two tablespoons of butter. I say "about" because I'll adapt the quantity of all the other ingredients to suit the amount of butter I start with. I melt the butter until is stops foaming and then I add about the same amount of flour as I had of butter. Stirring constantly, I cook the flour until, as my Dad described it, "it doesn't taste floury anymore." The temperature has to stay low because it is important not to brown the flour. The flour and butter will bubble and should look "lacey" (see photo below left). Then I whisk in garlic powder, mild curry powder, dry mustard, salt (I used Smoked Maldon) and white pepper to taste. (If I'm using beer later, I also add Worcestershire Sauce at this point) (photo below right).
Now for the liquid. I usually use sour cream or yogurt when making this dish for breakfast/brunch. Local Craft Beers are also great to experiment with for lunch or a dinner appetizer. I take the saucepan off the stove and add a little liquid at a time, blending until smooth between each addition. The flour will expand as the liquid is added, so keep stirring! Add liquid until you reach the desired consistency (photo below left). (This recipe works well for cheese sauces for broccoli/cauliflower/pasta too - just make it a little thinner).
Next up is the shredded cheese. We like a combination of medium and old cheddar. I put the saucepan back on medium heat and keep adding cheddar in small batches while stirring (and tasting) until the "cheesiness" level is right (photo above right). I keep stirring until all the cheese is melted. If I got the ratio of butter to flour right at the beginning, the butter won't separate out at this point (photos below).
While stirring in the cheese, I make the toast - this time it's crumpets (photo below left). We like English muffins and sourdough toasted too. Then I gently lap the Rarebit over the crumpet. This quantity makes enough for two for brunch/lunch (photo below right) or four for dinner appetizers.
One last bit of advice from Dad - when serving Rarebit for breakfast or brunch, it goes better with tea than with coffee (but don't ask me why).
Do you have a favourite recipe you learned from your Dad?