Welsh Rarebit à la Chinoise

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

 

Torn between two beers

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)
  • Flour
  • 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

 

This is roughly what went into it in the end (just ignore the coffee)

However, after considerable online research, I realized two things:

  1. You really can’t make Welsh Rarebit/Rabbit without the cheddar cheese because it’s just another way of saying Complicated Boozy Melted Cheese on Toast.
  2. Finding the cheese might be an impossible/extortionate/unfair task for anyone in, say, Hebei or Wuxi.

 

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.

Go slowly and don't let it burn

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).

The fork worked much better than chopsticks for this stage

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.

The chopsticks were fine for this part.

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.

I used my wooden spatula here but chopsticks would have worked just fine

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.

Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close up!
Pour some sugar on me! I mean, um, cheese sauce!

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!

 

Cheese toast is always better with booze in it
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8 Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    They actually have cheddar at the Feidan at the Loft now. Still, Mainland Vintage Cheddar (seemingly only available at City Shop) is the best cheddar I’ve found in Shanghai. Bargain at only 47RMB. 🙁 Boyfriend uses way too much of it.

    I hope this was delicious!

    1. MaryAnne says:

      I used the Mainland Tasty Vintage cheddar (from City Shop– the 47rmb one). Like cheesy gold, it is! and yes, this was AWESOME. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all (though I’m not sure any photo could as it’s just cheese sauce on Chinese square brown bread…)

    2. MaryAnne says:

      Oh! And you can also sometimes get the vintage cheddar at Kong’s Market near El Gato Verde.

  2. Liv says:

    My that sounded quite a mission! Afiyet Olsun indeed!
    Liv recently posted..Expat Life – The Good, The Bad and The UglyMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      It was faster and easier than it looks on the page 🙂 And although my food photography skills are a bit lacking still, it was çok lezzetli!

  3. Sally says:

    To be honest with you, I thought Welsh rarebit/rabbit was just a fancy word for “grilled cheese.” Huh, how I’ve been led astray! I had no idea there was booze involved. I probably would have tried it sooner, had I known.
    Thanks for the shout-out to Wuxi, by the way!
    Sally recently posted..The Solo Travel Girl’s Guide to Dealing with Unwanted Attention in AsiaMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      I think it could also pass for a really good nacho cheese dip, if you were so inclined…

  4. Tracyann0312 says:

    What an easy procedure in making simple but elegant breakfast. Cheese is my favorite stuffing when I ate bread. I think you can also add the basil and little pepper to the filling to add more taste. Thanks for sharing the recipe Mary Anne.
    Tracyann0312 recently posted..Fab DefenseMy Profile

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