Heston Blumenthal’s Welsh rarebit recipe is the ultimate in cold-weather comfort food snacking.
One of the best (or worst) kept secrets in Manchester right now is the brunch they serve at Cuckoo. It’s a tiny café / bar in Prestwich thats become the temporary home for Aumbry and Fat Duck chef (and regular Guardian columnist) Mary Ellen McTague.
We went along to check it out and went a bit silly with the menu (our scotch egg spend alone came in at £9 per head). For such a tiny place Mary-Ellen is churning out an impressive range of dishes, from nibbles to full-blown mains, but the brunch is the thing to have.
Favourite were the sublime, risotto-like baked beans, but close behind was the magnificent Welsh rarebit they serve. Given the Mary-Ellen’s Fat Duck background, and because we haven’t embarrassed ourselves with any reverse-engineering experiments along the lines of Hot-and-Cold-Mulled-Wine or T.V. show Worm Pizza for a while, we thought we’d have a crack at recreating the dish at home.
There’s a fairly old Heston Blumenthal Welsh Rarebit recipe that we’ve always fancied making (update: there’s now a brand new Heston Blumenthal English Rarebit recipe in the Dine In With Heston booklet available on iTunes), and assumed it might be similar to Cuckoo’s dish.
Problem is, Heston’s original welsh rarebit recipe makes about ten or twelve portions – kinda useless, unless you’re about to hold Britain’s most underwhelming dinner party. You can’t scale-down the recipe either, because the full ten-portion deal uses just a single egg yolk. However, we think we’ve got a near-genius trick that means we can finally make this recipe without the letovers going to waste.
Recipes: Heston’s Welsh Rarebit recipe
Special Equipment: None
Special Ingredients: None
Time: Under an hour
Serves: 4 – 8 (plus leftovers)
Step 1: Garlic Wine
Naturally you weren’t expecting simplicity or convention from a Heston Blumenthal recipe. Which is how we find ourselves starting his Welsh rarebit recipe with garlic and herb-infused white wine.
Heston suggests using a full bottle of white wine. Considering it’s just for delicately drizzling over your rarebit as a finishing touch we thought an entire bottle might be overkill (even for half a kilo of rarebit topping). We’re just weighing out 100g.
This then goes into a pan with the herbs and garlic, then you add 25ml of white wine vinegar for every 100ml of wine. So 25ml for us. This can now be decanted into a suitable vessel and set aside until later (I just put the pan on to the safety of the window ledge because otherwise I’d just knock it over).
Step 2: Bain of my Life
I’ve put up with a lot of crap from Heston Blumenthal over the years, and I’ve always tried to be polite about it. Let’s not forget, this is a man who woke up my neighbours at 2am with a paint spray gun full of chocolate and had me chasing down a garden full of burning hay to make a fish pie. As a result of these horrors I’m wary about some of his ideas, like melting cheese using the indirect heat of a bain marie.
Why are we doing this? I don’t know! Heston doesn’t bother to give us an explanation in the recipe. At a guess I’d say it’s to protect the cheese from the high hob heat that’d make it go grainy. And also because Heston will never miss a chance to triple the amount of washing up you have to do.
First though, grate the cheese. Long ago I learned that it’s a fools game to keep grating and weighing, grating and weighing – the scales always time out and switch off. Which leads to using a second bowl and other needless confusions. Nowadays this Libertine simply weighs the entire amount of cheese then grates the lot in one go.
We’re using a locally sourced mature cheddar (meaning I sourced it at the local Morrisons – “ho ho ho”). We always try to use the finest side of the grater to help our cheese melt that little bit faster.
Would you believe the bain marie method actually works! Okay, some of the oil does split from the cheese, but a quick stir with a spatula will fix that. You can happily leave it sat in the bowl, off the hob, while you get on with the next step.
Step 3: La Roux
With all the bizarre myriad options for thickening sauces available to the modernist chef, it’s kinda disappointing to see a bog-standard flour roux being used. Then again, this recipe is Heston wearing his traditional English cooking hat, and the Hind’s Head’s historical fayre is often overlooked in favour of the razzle-dazzle of The Fat Duck and Dinner.
Add the ale. We’re using any old ale because, let’s face it, ale is ale and they all taste alike (I’m kidding, but this is a good excuse to use the least-drinkable bottle I was given for Christmas). Then just whisk until thick over a low heat.
Step 4: Incorporation
Weigh out your other ingredients, then add these to the roux-thickened ale.
At this stage Heston says you need to break out the blender to emulsify all the ingredients, but if you’re lazy like me you’ll just whisk the bejezus out of the pan and call it done.
With the rarebit sauce made we can make our crafty addition to the recipe: an ice cube tray! Okay, so we just nicked this idea from Heston’s chicken stock recipe, but it’s worth using here too.
There’s going to be way more rarebit than you can eat in one go, and with an ice cube tray and a freezer you can make portions that’ll give you an awesome and delicious snack in about five minutes any time of day or night (and you’ll have all the garlic wine you could wish for to go with it).
Step 5: Grill List
This recipe is an attempt to match the stunning rarebit we had at Cuckoo. Since their bread is amazing I made an out-of-character purchase of posh sourdough from over at Booths Media City (don’t worry guys, it had a reduced sticker on it). Unlike at Cuckoo, the instructions specify you to cut meaty 1-inch slabs of bread for this Heston Welsh Rarebit recipe.
Before grilling Heston asks you to brush this with melted butter and lightly toast the bread. We found the easiest way to do this was just to zap the butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Although Heston’s tip of lightly toasting the bread in the oven didn’t work so well, the grill is a much better place for it to go.
Meanwhile we snipped up some chives to add a bit of colour. (And because if the food looked dreadful I could hopefully hide the worst bits under the herbs).
Then spread a hefty amount of your rarebit topping on (along here with a slice of ham, as a nod to the dish we enjoyed at Cuckoo).
5 – 10 minutes in the oven later and the rarebit should be bubbling and golden.
I’ve put the garlic wine in a spray bottle and arranged it on the plate, partly in a desperate attempt to make the photos look sophisticated, and partly because I didn’t know how the hell else I could get the bottle into the frame.
So just spritz or drizzle the garlic wine and get ready to tuck in to the completed Heston Blumenthal Welsh Rarebit recipe.
Unfortunately this wasn’t at all like the dish they serve at Cuckoo. But the difference was our only real disappointment; fundamentally the rest of this recipe is excellent.
The rarebit doesn’t suffer from the coarse graininess of other Welsh Rarebit recipes we’ve made (*coughStJohncough*). The rich savouriness of Heston’s Welsh Rarebit recipe could punch through even a twenty-a-day smoker’s tastebuds. The garlic wine is a master stroke that provides a lift that perfectly balances the richness. Another victory for ever-underrated tarragon.
Minor complaints would be that the bread, when cut to Heston’s measurements, can be a bit adversarial (it’s a battle to cut through it), and the grill is a much more sensible place to do the final bit of cooking for this recipe, rather than the oven. You could probably ditch the bain marie (and the extra washing up) if you were careful melting the cheese in the pan – over a very low heat.
And what about our genius trick / stolen stock cube idea? Well, guys, here’s a little photo we like to call “proof of concept”:
The frozen leftovers worked perfectly (although they were murder to get out of that cheapo plastic ice cube tray I own). Here’s the leftover rarebit served on some rye bread with a Chefsteps 75°C egg.
For a super rapid snack you can defrost the frozen rarebit cubes in the microwave in 60 seconds, easily achieved while you’re busy toasting your bread.
This recipe isn’t all that hard to make and with freezing the portions means you can have extremely delicious snacks on hand in a matter of minutes. If making again we’d:
- Slightly tone down the Worcestershire sauce
- Carefully melt the cheese in the pan along with the ale
- Serve on our preferred rye bread
- Cook using the grill rather than the oven
If you live near Manchester and you get the chance then we have to highly recommend that you head to Cuckoo while you can and, at the very least, try out the Black Pudding Scotch Eggs. They are, without question, one of the finest things you’ll ever eat.
Do you fancy giving this recipe a go, or have you got a favourite Welsh rarebit recipe of your own? And do you agree that all real ales essentially taste the same? Please let us know in the comments section below.