I’ll admit now that I’d never actually ever made Welsh Rarebit (or Rabbit or Bunny or whatever) before I was subtly dared to do so the other day on Facebook and so it’s a bit absurd that I’m now taking on the challenge of adapting it for a Chinese kitchen.
My usual lazy Google search for a recipe gave me Food Network USA ,Wikipedia and New York Times pages, followed up by Pioneer Woman. Not one Welsh face in the crowd, as you can see, though the generically British Jamie Oliver did make an appearance on page 2. Rather discouraging, really.
And really people, so much cheese? The New York Times recipe calls for a pound of sharp, aged Cheddar. A POUND! Are they insane? That’s like a whole freaking jīn (市斤) of dairy product in a country where a basic half pound block (about 200g) of half decent imported Land-O-Lakes mild cheddar goes for 35-40rmb (about US$6) . The posh aged cheddar is 47rmb+. And that’s if you can get it. It is fleeting, much in the same way as elves and unicorns.
In the interest of science, I went around to a few hardcore non-laowai supermarkets yesterday to see what could hypothetically be procured for this recipe if I happened to live, let’s say, in a city where there weren’t 200,000 affluent foreigners crying out for home comforts. And behind the moon cakes, tofu skins and dried fish, in a half forgotten refrigerator case at the back of the store, I found a few half-hidden 6rmb plastic packets of the Chinese equivalent of Kraft Singles. They had a cartoon cow on them. They were white, shiny and each of the 5 oil-based slices was individually wrapped in plastic. They didn’t look too promising. I didn’t buy any.
I went hunting for the other ingredients on my list, hoping that my Grand Wednesday Project wouldn’t be a total waste of time and energy. I needed to be able to fulfill the requirements of the following recipe, as spelled out by Alton Brown of the Food Network. I chose his recipe because it didn’t call for a pound of cheese- possibly because his recipe only uses 4 pieces of bread rather than 8, and uses half a pound rather than a pound of cheese. I’m not good at logic.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup porter beer
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 6 ounces (approximately 1 1/2 cups) shredded Cheddar
- 2 drops hot sauce
- 4 slices toasted rye bread
There was hope to be had!
This is what I could get:
- Salted butter
- Worcestershire sauce (làjiàngyóu a.k.a. “spicy soy sauce” or 辣酱油 )
- Sinkiang Black Beer (from Urumqi, Xinjiang) and Beer StoutBeer (seriously!)
- Some sort of generic square-edge brownish sandwich bread
And this is what I already had at home:
- Grainy French mustard (I found no mustard at all in the Chinese supermarket today but the internet says dry mustard does exist here and I’ve found various other prepared mustards around the city)
- Table salt (still clumpy)
- Fresh black pepper
- Habanero Tabasco sauce
- A box of long life whole milk (I also used a little semi-skimmed as the whole milk box was almost empty)
- A half block of aged Cheddar from City Shop
However, after considerable online research, I realized two things:
I initially considered making a new batch of fresh cheese and letting it drain longer to get a thicker, denser consistency. However, it’d still be a soft mild cheese and wouldn’t exactly be a reasonable replacement for cheddar. So, I decided to stick with the cheddar and just really reduce the proportions. I pretty much halved it, just to see if it would work. And it did. And it makes a little bit of cheese go a long way.
If you’re living in a cheddarless wasteland, I do apologize. Consider this recipe to be an occasional treat for those days when Carrefour is being benevolent and a block of cheddar is magically available and you want something rich and cheesy but don’t want to eat the whole thing at once.
This is how you make the sauce.
Get out your wok and put it on the lowest flame. Put the butter in and melt it.
When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour, slowly, to make a roux. You basically want to blend the butter and the flour together over the heat, being careful not to brown the flour (it’ll taste burnt).
Once the flour and butter are properly whisked together (it takes 2-3 minutes), blorp in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and stir those until it’s a smooth paste. Throw in the beer and keep whisking to combine.
Pour in the milk (or cream, if you have it) slowly, and whisk whisk whisk. Don’t let it burn or stick, which is what will happen if you just let it sit there and burble on the heat. Add the cheese a bit at a time, letting it melt into the sauce. I only used 3/4 of a cup rather than the 1.5 cups in the recipe. It’ll take about 4 minutes for the sauce to thicken up at this stage. Add hot sauce. The recipe calls for 2 drops of it but I used, um, 8 or 10 or so. And I added a lot more black pepper.
When the sauce feels thick enough to be able to be poured over toast without spilling everywhere, take it off the heat. I immediately put mine in a little glass Tupperware bowl so I could easily put the left overs in the fridge.
At some point, you might want to make the toast.
I have a little counter top oven that’s like an overgrown toaster oven and I used the broiler setting (top heat) on high. You could also toast it in a frying pan or wok with a little oil. I toasted both sides, though I don’t know if it is necessary since it goes right back into the oven with the cheese sauce on it.
And, finally, after a few minutes under the hot glare of the toaster oven’s highest heat, we have Cheese On Toast With Booze!
Bon appétit! Afiyet olsun! 慢慢吃！