leek and ham rarebit

If like me, you have been a fan of toasted cheese for as long as you can remember this week’s dish will be of interest to you. Welsh rarebit or ‘rabbit’ does not and never has contained rabbit of any sort. In fact, the name seems to have been used in the same way as in ‘mock turtle soup’ or ‘Bombay duck’ – the former being made from calf’s brains (to give the same texture as turtle) and the latter being a condiment made of dried, salted and spiced lizard fish. I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking to the rarebit. It seems the ‘Welsh’ part was given to the dish as the Welsh liked a lot of cheese and they are not alone.

The key to this dish is your cheese and beer or ale. For this one I used Guinness as I have used it in the past and it adds a great colour as well as depth of flavour along with one my one of my favourite Scottish products – Isle of Mull cheddar. Its strong tang and bite more than holds its own with the other ingredients – but you can use any strong cheddar that takes your fancy. The braised leek and ham mixture can be substituted with leftover chicken or keep it vegetarian by using roast tomato, mushroom’s and onions. My point is, Welsh rarebit is a dish that lends itself to that virtuous task of using everything up. A perfect Sunday night supper with a wee salad or a bowl of soup – and not a rabbit in sight. Enjoy.

The Method

Serves 4

3 leeks, washed and chopped
150g cooked ham, shredded
50g flour
50g butter
250ml strong beer, warmed
250g Mull cheddar or another strong cheddar, grated
1tsp English mustard
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp Worcester sauce
2 egg yolks
black pepper
4 thick slices ciabatta or crusty bread

1. Cook leeks with a knob of butter and a splash of water, gently until softened.#
2. Add cooked ham and combine, keep warm.
3. In a saucepan make a roux with the butter and flour, keep stirring to cook flour and avoid burning. Add the beer bit by bit until you have a smooth consistency.
4. Stir in the grated cheese, Worcester sauce and mustard. Remove from heat, add the egg yolks and combine to form a smooth paste.
5. Add the leek and ham mix, combine well and season to taste.
6. Lightly toast both sides of the bread then spoon the rarebit mix generously over each slice and grill till bubbling hot and browned.
7. Serve with watercress salad.