d o c t o r a n d m a m a

Linda Shiue

Linda Shiue
San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
December 31
I am a physician and spend my free time with my husband and kids, reading everything in sight, eating, traveling, and cooking meals inspired by my travels. These days I'm spending more time at my food blog, spiceboxtravels.com. Please visit me there and follow me on Twitter @spiceboxtravels. Disclaimer: Health information presented here is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. © 2010-12 Linda Shiue. All Rights Reserved.

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Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 16, 2011 11:02AM

Welsh Rabbit for Rabbit Buns

Rate: 19 Flag
rarebit ingredients
I've bragged before about my hidden talent-- the ability to understand foreign-accented English, perfected through years of international Thanksgiving potlucks.  Alas, I do have an Achilles heel.  It's the Scottish brogue.  Don't you just love it? It's musical, cadenced.  But you've got to admit, a challenge to understand. (Tell me: why should Edinburgh be pronounced "Edinboro"?)  I learned of my weakness when I was floored by my inability to understand the Scotsman I met in the most unlikely of places, a backpackers' hostel in Aitutaki, Cook Islands.  It was an international cast of characters with different accents to challenge me-- the locals, speaking in New Zealand accents; the Lyonnaise woman who proclaimed she did not have a French accent (but did); a young farming couple from the Devon countryside speaking in a West Country accent; and the Scot.
In these low-budget hostels in exotic locations, you can overlook the poorly functioning plumbing and the cockroaches if you focus instead on your fellow travellers, becoming fast friends while comparing travel notes over rounds of cheap, warm beer.  I can't think of a more interesting way to learn about other people and cultures than in hearing these stories. That is, if you can understand them.  The Frenchwoman had just finished telling a very long story about being chased by goats (or was it ghosts?) outside (and apparently it had happened to her elsewhere before).  The Scot then chimed in with a story of his own.  These conversations don't often take on a scholarly track, but somehow he started discussing literature.  I just didn't know that was what he was talking about.
"Do you like Rabbit Buns?" he asked.
"Oh, I don't eat rabbit.  I am mostly vegetarian," was my response.
"No not rabbit.  Rabbit Buns."
The rosy-cheeked English couple looked at me, smiling.  They exhanged glances with the Frenchwoman, but she looked as perplexed as I did.
The Scot started repeating himself over and over, getting increasingly agitated and red in the face. "You really don't know about Rabbit Buns? Rabbit Buns.  Rabbit Buns!  Do you really not learn anything about literature in your American universities?"
If I had not been with a crowd of witnesses, and if it had not been so otherworldly beautiful outside, I would have been scared for my safety.  The Scot was about to Blow His Top.
Finally, the English farmerwoman rescued me.  "Linda, he's talking about Robert Burns.  You know, the Scottish poet?"  (At least I could understand her accent.)
Well, why didn't he just say so?
Robert Burns wrote poems on many subjects, the most famous perhaps his "O, my Luve's like a red, red rose..."  He lyricized on food, too, including an ode to haggis, but no worries, I'm not cooking that here.  Instead, this story reminded me of Welsh Rabbit, sometimes spelled Rarebit, the British version of grilled cheese.  It's not clear how its name came about.   Like Robert Burns/Rabbit Buns, Welsh Rabbit does not contain actual rabbit. The first recorded use of this name was in 1725. Theories abound as to its etymology.  One proposes that it may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: in England at that time rabbit was the poor man's meat, and in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese.  Another explanation is simpler: the Welsh were known for being cheese lovers, and early Welsh writing mentions a Rabbit-like Welsh cheese dish.  This is described by Andrew Boorde in his Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge (1542): "I am a Welshman, I do love cause boby, good roasted cheese."

So here is my version of Welsh Rabbit/Rarebit,  homestyle comfort food along the lines of American grilled cheese.  English food may have a bad rap, but Welsh Rabbit/Rarebit actually has a more nuanced taste than grilled cheese.  With its mix of smooth melted cheddar, a rich cream sauce, and some ale or beer to cut the richness, plus or minus some spices, it's the English equivalent of fondue.  And, appropriately for the land where the sandwich was born, it's fondue made portable on toast.   I am serving it in tribute to the poetry of Rabbit Buns, the friends you make traveling, and my Achilles Heel of foreign accents.   Kilt and bagpipes optional.

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Welsh Rabbit, for Rabbit Buns (or Welsh Rarebit, for Robert Burns) 
Welsh rarebit by Linda Shiue 
Welsh Rarebit is English pub fare, so it's perfect in cool weather with some ale, or a nice strong cuppa tea, such as PG Tips.  To healthy it up a bit, which is definitely untraditional, serve it with a green salad and some sliced tomatoes.

Servings: about 12 

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tsp mustard (such as Colman's, quintessentially English) 
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup ale or other beer of your choice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
3/4 cup heavy cream
7 oz English cheddar, such as Kerrygold, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
salt and black pepper to taste
1 loaf of crusty bread, sliced into 12 pieces and lightly toasted

1. Melt butter in a sauce pan over low heat.
2.  Whisk flour into melted butter and stir for a few minutes until golden.
3.  Add in in mustard, cayenne,  beer and Worcestershire sauce.  Whisk until smooth.
4.  Stir in cream and bring to a simmer.
5.  Gradually add grated cheese in several batches, and stir until smooth. Remove from heat.
6.  Spoon mixture thickly onto toast and put under broiler until bubbly and edges of toast are crisp. Serve immediately.
7. Any remaining sauce can be refrigerated for up to three days.  Spread onto toast and broil to serve.
© 2011 Linda Shiue
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"RAREBIT n. A Welsh rabbit, in the speech of the humorless, who point out that it is not a rabbit. To whom it may be solemnly explained that the comestible known as toad in the hole is really not a toad, and that ris de veau à la financière is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she-banker."
-Ambrose Bierce, in his 1911 Devil's Dictionary 

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Hilarious story! A friend of mine had a similar experience: he was in Scotland and asked a local for directions to the train station. The local gave him the directions and my friend thanked him and started t0 walk off--before realizing he hadn't understood a word the man had said. And this friend is a phonologist (a linguist specializing in speech sound systems). So you're in good company!
Irish brogue, Scottish burr.

The musical former is how the English sounded in Shakespeare's day; so say scholars. The latter took me months to make out. (I used to work with Brits, Aussies and Scots.)

As a kid I raised a rarebit. Called it Warren Beatty. Couldn't train it, so in the end I ate it. Not as delicious as yours, Linda.
terrific story and great recipe, linda. not that it's a huge surprise that i would love something that's basically melted cheese in a roux and toasted bread. if this is on the menu for tonight, my weight-loss plan will start tomorrow. ;
Yummm....I love rarebit! Thank you for reminding me of the fine repasts I enjoyed in London...xox
too funny :D and rarebit sounds delicious!
this sounds and looks deliciously comforting and the belly laugh entertainment was heartily enjoyed at this safe distance from red-faced Scots and the dangers of misunderstood accents.
Looks and Sounds Like an English Cheese Fondue on Hearty Baked Bread. Probably Tastes Like a Hearty English Cheddar Cheese Fondue à l'anglaise...
Ooch! Me Irish gran would roll in the stuff, it looks that good.

(I had an experience at a take out window, being blasted with 'hotamile', 'hotamile', 'HOTAMILE!' and finally rolled around to the window to see a lady holding out BBQ sauces. Hot or mild.)
Oh, the joys of international youth hostels! I loved the way your story unfolded, and Welsh Rarebit is the perfect accompaniment to your anecdote. I've never tried this dish, but I do remember studying this in my mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook and wondering why was it called "Rabbit"...
Beery, mustardy, wooster-y. AND cheesy. Way to go, Linda. :) Rated
mmmm. Delish... an half the fun was getting there.
Very funny story, and a yummy recipe! Gorgeous food photo, as always. ;)
Delightful and funny. I grew up eating Welsh rarebit and calling it rabbit. Now I won't read Robert Burns without laughing and thinking of your story. R
Funny story - I'm glad you had some sympathetic friends to help you out. Love this recipe & story. Bonne chance!
Yum, yum! A variation (i.e., the way I make it) is to use toasted English muffins topped with a tomato slice; smother with the cheese/beer sauce, and finally add a couple slices of crisp bacon (just to make it, you know, really healthy). Can't wait to try your recipe with the Kerrygold cheddar.
Funny and yummy! I luve the picture -- that melty cheese. Any photo of melty cheese slays me, and that's a particularly good one.

If it's any consolation, there were times when I couldn't decipher the very strong Southern accents of my cousins -- who knew "pillars" were pillows?
Tell me: why should Edinburgh be pronounced "Edinboro"?)
It isn't. It's pronounced "Edinburro" or "Edinburrah", depending how far away the Scot pronouncing it grew up. Some of its denizens however pronounce it "Embra" (and will tell you the Queen's husband is the "Chooky Embra").

Speaking of Burns, his birthday is January 25th, on which night many of his fellow countrymen will dress in full Highland garb to honor the greatest bard of the Lowlands. But as long as the haggis doesn't explode and there's plenty whisky, no-one will care about the slight cultural incongruity.
Thanks and great piece. :D
I find Aussie accents somewhat hard to understand. But never having been to Scotland, I'll have to see if I can follow the conversation once I get there. My mother said she had a hard time understanding the Scots, as well.

Rarebit like a wonderful, comforting dish for a lunch, tea or supper in chilly England, Linda. I don't think I'll ever think of old Rabbit Buns the same way again, though. =o)