As part of a New Year’s resolution, I’m cooking a dish from each country around the world. Check out my progress here!
From Ireland, we move on to Wales!
Out of the all of the UK, Wales is a country I know the least about, especially when it comes to their food. While some of their national dishes and specialities did surprise me, their cuisine is similar to their British/Irish/Scottish counterparts with hearty stews, reliant on meat and root vegetables as their staples. These culinary traditions are a product of the country, where “harsh Celtic land yields not a lot, but enough to satisfy” and justly dishes are meant to stretch ingredients. Similarly, the land was unable to support few cereal crops other than oats and so this ingredient becomes a staple in porridges, soups and used in baked goods.
While cattle is raised, sheep farming is more prevalent and cabbage and leeks have long been the main cultivated vegetables in the country… as result, Cawl, a lamb and leek stew, is often considered the national dish of Wales.
Other well-known Welsh dishes include:
– Tatws Pum Munud, a layered stew of potatoes, vegetables, and bacon; also, called Five Minute Potatoes
– Teisennau Tatws, or potato cakes
– Bara birth, or “speckled bread;” similar to a fruitcake, it is traditionally made with raisins, currants and candied peel
– Welsh cakes or bakestones
– Laverbread, a delicacy of seaweed (laver) mixed with oatmeal which is formed into patties and fried; it is fried with bacon and cockles and traditionally eaten for breakfast (making up a Welsh breakfast).
But, I chose to make Welsh rarebit, another traditional Welsh dish. Rarebit is at it’s most basic a savory, tangy cheese sauce served golden and bubbling atop toasted bread (though I’ve had it before in a ramekin served with toast for dipping).
Served with a poached egg on top it becomes Buck rarebit (don’t ask me why).
Cheese on toast isn’t anything new — and what I find most interesting about this dish is it’s name and the history/meaning behind it.
Originally called Welsh Rabbit, the name was corrupted and confused somewhere along the way to what we know today as Welsh Rarebit. Why it was called Welsh Rabbit to begin with is not clear, but there are several theories out there.
One theory is that it is an ironic name (first coined in the 1700s). In England, rabbit was considered the poor man’s meat and as the early Welsh peasants and farmers were notoriously poor (or some say, too inefficient to catch rabbit), cheese would have been the poorer man’s meat. As an article in the Independent argues, we really should change the name of this dish as it seems like an insult to the Welsh (“to the effect that their idea of a rare, luxurious meat dish (eg, rabbit) is in fact cheese”).
More Fun Facts:
– September 3rd is National Welsh Rarebit Day.
– In addition to Welsh rarebit, there is an “English Rarebit” and a “Scottish Rarebit” (the bread is soaked in red wine and toasted with cheese, and bread is buttered and toasted with cheese, respectively).
I choose a recipe from The Guardian (I figured that would be the most authentic). This particular Guardian article broke down each component (cheese, bread, ale etc), comparing different recipes and debating the best choice for a truly delicious rarebit.
1 tsp mustard powder
3 tbsp stout
¼ cup unsalted butter
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
1½ cups cheese, grated*
2 egg yolks
Sliced bread (we used a Seedy Rye)
*We choose an English cheese, Cheshire, and appropriately a Welsh cheese, Afron Cleddau (both cheddars, which were really good on their own).
Mix the mustard powder with a little stout in the bottom of a small pan to make a paste, then stir in the rest of the stout and add the butter and about 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Heat gently until the butter has melted.
Stir in the cheese, being careful not to let the mixture boil. Once smooth, taste for seasoning. Remove from the heat and let cool until slightly warm.
Toast the bread on both sides in the oven.
Beat the yolks into the warm cheese until smooth. Spoon on to the toast and cook until bubbling and golden. Serve immediately.
And as the Welsh say, Mwynhewch eich bwyd!