Rarebit, a.k.a. Welsh rabbit, is an odd-sounding name for a dish that's several hundred years old and has nothing to do with bunnies. For those who don't know it, it's a roux-based cheese sauce that's typically flavored with something sharp, like mustard or Worcestershire sauce, and maybe spices, and beer or cider.
It might look like Velveeta, but trust me, that's where the similarity ends. In this application, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Diana Henry pours it over thick toast and broils it just until browned and bubbly – very quick comfort food for which you could skip the reading of the nutritional analysis, just this once, and indulge. It's posh and humble at the same time.
Henry included it in her new cookbook, "Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors," with the added richness of a whisked-in egg and a skosh of apple brandy. But years before, she had featured in her column for the Telegraph a version with ripe pear, and that gives the dish just enough substance to pass for dinner at my house. With a salad.
Hard Cider Rarebit
It's nice to use individual gratin dishes, but you could serve the cheese sauce in a communal pot (think fondue) for dipping toast slices and pear wedges.
3 thick slices crusty bread
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup dry hard cider (see note)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon mustard, preferably Colman's (English, not powdered) or Dijon
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large Bosc or Bartlett pear
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons apple brandy or Calvados
3 sprigs fresh thyme or finely chopped chives
Position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler.
Meanwhile, toast the bread. Place each slice in an individual gratin dish.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to form a roux, then remove the pan from the heat just long enough to gradually whisk in the cider until smooth.
Return to the heat; once the mixture is bubbling, reduce heat to low. Stir in the cheese, mustard and nutmeg. Remove from the heat and season generously with the pepper.
Peel and core the pear. Cut half of it into long wedges that are not too thick, and cut the rest into small dice.
Crack the egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add the apple brandy or Calvados and stir until lightly beaten. Whisk a few spoonfuls of the cheese mixture into the egg to temper it, then pour it all into the saucepan, whisking until well incorporated. Add the diced pear and stir to incorporate.
Arrange some pear wedges on each piece of toast, then pour the cheese sauce over them, dividing it evenly among the gratin dishes. Broil for a minute or two, watching closely, just until lightly browned on top and bubbling. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves or chives. Serve hot.
Note: Hard ciders, which contain alcohol, are getting easier to find, but many brands in supermarkets are very sweet. For a dry version, you may need to look in a wine or bottle shop.
Per serving: 410 calories, 15 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 480 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar
Yield: 3 servings.