Welsh Rabbit! – Today’s entry is dedicated to two people inhabiting very different parts of the globe. One of them is That David Guy, who is at this very moment on the cusp—the cusp, I say!—of reaching the 50,000-word mark in his magnum opus for this year’s NaNoWriMo. He has posted none of his writing online, no doubt because he fears that the sheer awesomeness of his words will cause faces to melt and eyeballs to pop out, à la Raiders of the Lost Ark, but nonetheless I encourage you to visit his site and read his fascinating daily progress posts. How he achieves so much with so little is a mystery—it’s pure art, I tell you.
At any rate, That David Guy recently asked me if I was going to be posting any more food entries, as the photos of tasty food make my tortured prose a little more palatable. I told him that I probably wasn’t going to be doing much in the way of cooking, but I did start thinking about it. Yesterday I opened up the refrigerator and saw a lone can of Budweiser next to gaggle of Guinness cans. What, you ask, is a can of Budweiser doing in my refrigerator? Well, it was given to me by a fellow professor here at the university. Todd is now in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the U.N. mission there, but before he left he came over for dinner and brought the beer with him. If I remember correctly, there were two cans of Budweiser and four cans of Guinness (not the same cans of Guinness in the refrigerator now, of course). I told him that he would have to drink the Budweiser, because it was unlikely that I ever would. He drank one can and left the other, and it has set in my refrigerator ever since. Until today, that is.
I still had no intention of drinking it, but it was ostensibly beer, and you can’t just throw beer out, can you? You can see my dilemma. The answer, of course, which came to me in a flash, was to cook with it. I rummaged through the drawers of the refrigerator to see what I had that could be combined with Budweiser to make it consumable. I spied a big hunk of cheddar cheese and it was settled—I would make Welsh Rabbit!
For those of you not familiar with Welsh Rabbit, it is essentially a cheese-and-beer sauce. In terms of awesome combinations, this ranks near the top of the scale, right around chocolate and peanut butter (unless you’re my mum, who unfathomably doesn’t like peanut butter and whose opinion thus does not count). When I’m feeling lazy, I strip it down to its most basic elements, throwing a bunch of grated cheddar cheese into a saucepan of hot beer, but that’s just cheese melted in beer—still awesome, but not really a sauce. To make it properly, I wanted to start with a roux and add some milk to the mix (this is a “sauce béchamel,” one of the French “mother sauces”). But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s time to start with the photos.
This is, of course, the main ingredient: sharp cheddar cheese. Unlike European fondues, which are often made with somewhat milder cheeses like Gruyère or Emmenthaler, Welsh Rabbit is best made with a sharp cheddar, the sharper the better. The amount you see here is a little less than 180 grams, or approximately six ounces. This isn’t baking, and even though sauce making is a more exact science than many other forms of cooking, you don’t need to be right on the button.
These are the remaining ingredients, minus some freshly ground black pepper, because there was no way I was going to grind a dash of pepper into one of those little dishes. They’re made in Japan (the dishes), by the way, and even though they’re a little busy for a cooking show, I think they add a distinct flavor to the proceedings (if you’ve ever seen Japanese television, you’ll know that what you see here is rather understated).
At any rate, at the top you can see the can of Budweiser, a.k.a. “The King of Beers.” Right. And I’m the King of Korea. Also, notice how the beer proclaims, in all caps, “Genuine”—not once, but twice. Genuine what? It’s a mystery. Anyway, I’ve already measured out a half cup of the stuff , which you can see at the bottom of the photo. Next to it is a quarter cup of milk. In the fancy dishes, we have (from left) a dollop of whole-seed mustard, a pat of unsalted butter (approximately a tablespoon), about a tablespoon of flour, and an egg yolk.
The first step in the process is to make the roux. Simply melt the butter and then stir in the flour until it is fully incorporated. I let this roux cook a little longer until it started to brown, and then went on to the next step: adding the liquid.
I don’t think it really matters which you add first, but I wanted to start with the beer so that I could have, if only briefly, a beer sauce. I was tempted to taste this, but I resisted and moved on.
Next in was the milk, and after stirring it in completely, it softened the color quite a bit. Now we have a beer béchamel sauce, or a beerchamel sauce. Although I suppose we can drop the pretense, because with the addition of beer this stopped being anything remotely close to French cuisine.
I’ve already added some of the cheese here, as you can see by the hue of the sauce, but Hyunjin wanted to catch me in the act of adding the cheese. After the whole pile of cheese was in the pan, I stirred until it was smooth
Next came the mustard. Now, I understand that some Welsh Rabbit recipes are going to call for mustard powder rather than mustard, and they certainly won’t be calling for whole-seed mustard. Maybe the seeds mar the pristine sheen of the sauce, but I like whole-seed mustard, and I like the way the seeds look in the sauce. So there.
The last step in the process is to remove the sauce from the heat source and rapidly whisk in the egg yolk. The sauce itself is a little out of focus here, but you should be able to see the orange streaks on the outside—that’s the egg yolk. Oh, the pepper goes in at this point as well, but I don’t have a shot of that. Let’s face it—grinding pepper is not the most exciting step in the process.
While I was tempted to just tip up the saucepan and pour the sauce straight into my mouth, the traditional way of eating Welsh Rabbit is on toast. So I cut a few slices of whole wheat bread (my recipe, but made in the bread maker because I haven’t had the time for full-fledged bread making these days) and toasted them.
I took a bunch of photos of the sauce on the toast, but this one came out the best. If you are a cheese-lover like me, this is a beautiful sight. And for as tasty as it looks, the photo can’t compare to the actual taste. It’s not something I would recommend in large quantities, because it is very rich, but in small portions it is very good. And it is simple to make—if you’ve made a roux-based sauce before, you can handle this. In fact, you could probably handle this even if you have never made a roux-based sauce before. The cheese thickens it up quite a bit, so it’s pretty forgiving.
This is the end of the photos, but not the end of the story. If you remember, the recipe only called for a half cup of Budweiser, which is only a little over a third of the can. I was fully ready to dump the rest of it, but Hyunjin thought we should have something to drink with the Welsh Rabbit, so why not the Budweiser? It does make sense, actually—when cooking with wine, using a wine you are planning to drink with the meal is a good idea. Of course, I was cooking with the Budweiser precisely because I didn’t want to drink it (kind of a culinary no-no), but I thought, why not? Maybe it’s not really as bad as I remember it being.
And that was a very real possibility, since I think I have had Budweiser only twice before in my life. The first was when I decided I never wanted to drink it again, and the second was when sufficient time had passed that I had forgotten what it had tasted like the first time. Well, apparently every decade I need to remind myself what Budweiser tastes like. I won’t say it’s the worst beer I’ve ever had, because I’ve had Milwaukee’s Best, but it is the worst beer I have had in the past decade. Even the blander Korean beers are better than this, and I would take Cass over Budweiser any day. I ended up dumping half of my glass, which meant that I ended up drinking about 60 ml or so. Definitely more than enough.
But I did manage to kill three birds with one stone: I’ve written a food entry, made Welsh Rabbit for the first time in a long time, and finally gotten rid of that lone can of Budweiser. Today was a good day, indeed.