Why hello there, and welcome back to our culinary cabin in the woods, Kitchen Castastrophes! I’m your certainly-some-kind-of-psychopath chef du jour, Jon O’Guin. Recently, we’ve been very Bavarian focused on the site, because I was living in a Bavarian themed town for a month. These things happen, but it’s time to shake off the altitude of the Alps, and dive deep into the meats of the briny deep: Whales! That’s right, we’ve obtained some exclusive, and not-at-all-illegally-acquired whale meat, and we’re…hold up. The chef phone is ringing.
Many wonder why my chef phone is a robot. The answer is "Because I could only afford what the thrift store run by the cryptic old woman had, assholes."
Huh. I’d say that only rings in cases of emergencies, but to my knowledge, it was never connected to a phone line. It should be purely decorative, and any calls received should be fictional. Let me answer it, and wish me luck it’s not some sort of demon child informing me of my upcoming demise!
Moshi Moshi, Jon O’Guin on the line.
I mean, I SAID my name, of course it’s me.
What’s the point of USING a greeting if you’re not going to listen?!
Yeah. That’s fine.
Listen, I’m sorry I snapped at you, it’s just this phone shouldn’t even work. I’m not fully certain you’re not some agent of the Abyss.
Though maybe that's because I just assume this robot is evil. Like, why else would it have red eyes? Also, it was sold to me by a cryptic old woman, so there's already a 74% chance it's possessed or cursed.
Oh, you’re a lawyer? You can understand my confusion.
Yes, I’m sure you do hear that one a lot.
Alright, take care. And never call this number again!
So, that was a lawyer. Specifically, supposedly, my lawyer. I don’t recall ever HAVING a lawyer, but I suppose SOMEONE had to have been responsible for all those felonies, misdemeanors, and several inchoate crimes and infractions.
Anywho, apparently, I should, under no circumstances, claim I have whale meat, whether or not that claim is true. I should certainly not divulge the origin of said non-existent meat as being a ship of swarthy Russian fishermen, unless I can prove they were members of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, a phrase I am certain just ended in the name of an Uruk-hai.
"And there stood Okrug, slayer of Lurtz, brood-sire of Shagrat, captain of Phlegh, rival of Ugluk, and blood brother to Grishnakh."
See? I only made up ONE of those names, and Okrug still fits in perfectly.
In any case, it seems I am, legally, sea-meat-less. Luckily, there’s been a long-standing solution to being meat-less in England, and it just so happens to involve Wales the COUNTRY! So Let’s eat some Wales Not-Meat instead of our not-whale-meat, in the form of Welsh Rabbit.
We Got All Sorts of Rabbits: Irish, Welsh, English, Br’er.
Let’s get the awkward part out of the way: if there’s no meat, and definitely no rabbit in this, why’s it called Welsh Rabbit? The answer is, as the title of the post implies, racism. Really confusing racism, too. Alright, so, for a while, “Welsh” was used as an adjective in English speech to mean, well, “Shitty.” Or “cheap/Foreign”. Like how we’d accuse something of being a “Chinese knock-off” today. And trust me, while the English shitting on Wales has a LONG history, this specific form has a rather pointed and continued one: see, Welsh Rabbit, as you’ll soon see, is basically hot cheese-sauce on toast. And hot cheese has been the heart of Welsh cooking for CENTURIES.
Like, in 1526, an Englishman wrote down a joke about how there were too many Welshmen in Heaven, chatting up such a storm that it pissed everybody off, and God got sick of it. So he asked St Peter to do something about it, and Saint Peter walked outside of Heaven, and yelled “Hot damn, boys, There’s some roasted cheese out here!” At which point every Welshman in Heaven ran outside to get some, and he locked the door behind them.
That joke is noted as coming from “wryten amonge olde gestys”, because this was before spelling was invented. (The last word is “jests”, by the way. Took me a while too.) That means the English were making “those Welshmen and their Cheese” jokes before the New World was discovered. A hundred years before Shakespeare made an actor spell out “C-U-N-T” on stage for a joke, the Welsh were losing Heaven for Fondue.
That simply fascinating bit of perverse and racist history aside, one thing’s always bothered me about Welsh Rabbit: if the joke is that it’s a shitty knock-off of rabbit, then why isn’t it more like rabbit? Like, again, this is SAUCE on TOAST. Specifically, a beer and Cheese sauce. That’s a real fatty sauce. And rabbit is NOT a fatty meat. In fact, it is so lean (and this is a mildly disgusting but true fact) that you cannot survive on only rabbit: if you eat nothing but rabbit, you will get what is called “rabbit-starvation”, where you have a bunch of diarrhea and die, because there’s basically nothing there but protein: if you eat the right amount of protein, you end up with a bunch of vitamin deficiencies. If you eat enough for the vitamins, you have too much protein, and your body floods your blood with ammonia.
So what gives? No one knows. See, the term “welsh Rabbit” just showed up in the middle of 1725 with no explanation. Weirdly, 1725 is also the year the first recording of “spätzle” showed up, and is like, 15 years ahead of fried potatoes. The mid 1700’s were a big time for starchy sides. Anywho, some people have suggested that this is because “rabbit” is a corruption of “rarebit”, in turn a corruption of “rearbit”, meaning ‘a snack eaten after a meal.” Here’s the thing about that: the first time “rarebit” was ever written down was 1785, 60 years after “rabbit”. And “rearbit” was first written down AS PART OF THAT EXPLANATION. Yeah, about 50-60 years after Welsh rabbit became a thing, some guy just made up an explanation for it, and it KEEPS hanging around, among people who think “rabbit” is too silly a name.
Eminem's rebuttal was eloquent as ever.
As far anyone can tell, the line just SHOWED UP one day, fully formed. Personally, given a lot of the phrasing around the time, I like to think it was a joke that just caught on: some Englishman walked into an inn or pub, and asked for a cut of beef. “We’re out of beef,” the cook said “But I could give you some Welsh rabbit!” When he hands the guy his toast and cheese, the man cries “There’s no rabbit in this!” To which the chef says “Ah, sir, that’s the way of the Welsh, innit? Never enough money for real meat.”
Interestingly, about 22 years after its first appearance, a cookbook showed up with Rabbits for the whole isle: Irish rabbit added pickles and onions, an English rabbit soaked the bread in red wine, and a Scotch rabbit is exactly the same as a Welsh one, which, if that isn’t a really good English joke, I will eat my hat. (Just IMAGINE how pissed Scotland would be to be called “just like Wales”.)
" 'OW DAYRE YA? WEE'RE NUTHEN LAIKE THOSE SHAYP-HUMPEN WHALESH BASTEHDS!"
But enough jawing away, talking about rabbits and racism. Let’s get to the main event: Making this shindig.
Everything comes back to the Bird
If you spend roughly 2 minutes of prep time before you try to cook, you can complete this recipe in under the length of a performance of Freebird. Hell, if you DON’T, you might be able to pull it off as long as you’ve got some useful tools. This is a simple 12-15 minute recipe of arguably 2 steps. It’s a roux with shit added to it. This recipe may be the simplest thing I’ve done on the site, and last week’s post was “Push dough through a fucking cheese grater.”
Of course, I couldn’t allow such simplicity to mess up our mojo, oh no. It’s been too long since we actually failed here on the site. I mean, our last time I walked away unhappy with the dish was…September 11th? Well, that’s an unfortunate coincidence. Also, much more recent than I thought it would be. Huh. I guess I’ve just been feeling pretty good for the last month.
Anywho, since I THOUGHT it had been a while since we fucked up, I started off the recipe by sabotaging it: see, the recipe calls for an amber or brown ale, and my family drinks basically nothing but IPAs, stouts, and ciders. (Yes, I know that’s a weird mix, just move on.) So, when I popped over to the beer cooler to grab a bottle of amber for the mix, I saw three options, and IMMEDIATELY grabbed the one least likely to work out.
Look, I'm no graphic designer. But when your map of the river you're referencing ALSO looks like your label just tore, maybe outline it or something rather than dropping it in the middle of a nature scene.
My family also decided to join in on plan “make this harder than it needs to be” by deciding right when Jon needed one burner for 10 minutes was when we should make dinner, a process that needed 2 burners, the oven, and all the available counter space in the kitchen. To make sandwiches. I’d be more unhappy, but they’re hot pastrami sandwiches, an O’Guin family recipe that is one of my absolute favorites, so I can’t be too unhappy. “If you like them so much, why haven’t you written a post about them?” you ask in that annoying tone you use when you think you’ve out-smarted me. And this time, even more infuriatingly, you’re kind of right. While I DID write up the recipe back when the site was just a series of Facebook posts, it was before I actually had a respectable camera on my phone, so I never took pictures of it. It’s actually a topic I should revisit. BUT I AM ONLY JUST NOW REALIZING THIS, GET OFF MY BACK.
Returning to our abandoned sauce pan, the recipe is as simple as simple gets: melt butter, then add flour and a couple seasonings to make a flavored roux. Pour in beer and more seasonings. Cook for a couple minutes, add shredded cheese, and whisk until smooth. Maybe slap some bread in a toaster while that’s happening. I just threw sliced French bread in a hot pan and waited a few minutes.
Realizing I had a rare opportunity on my hands, I also busted out some swank Scottish cheddar to melt in the bubbling beer. Because, think about it. I, a man of Irish descent, was making Welsh Rabbit using Scottish Cheddar and French bread. The only way it could be more offensive to English sensibilities is if I were being rude and wasting tea while making this.
This picture looks like I'm ruining a cup of tea, so it'll have to do.
In the end, the general consensus was united: the stuff tasted fine, except the beer was a little too strong. It didn’t gel with the cheddar quite right. I ended up drinking the rest of the bottle later, and it was surprisingly pleasant on its own, but it didn’t pan out too great in the rabbit. The rabbit was also much nicer with some “pork chips”, a product consisting of thinly sliced cured pork, in what is just a sort of tragic commentary: the dish works real good if you’ve got some meat to go with it.
As I sat, disconsolate at the relative lack of both success and noteworthy failure, I realized there was a chance to salvage all this, turning it into the perfect weapon: I was to attend a house-warming party for Alan Vandegrift, the recently silent but ever-present Phantom Menace of the site. And Alan, as I have joked at length, has a particular set of food issues: namely, he cannot eat yeasted bread, drink beer, or eat cheese. I had, without realizing it, concocted the precise poison to ruin him and lay him low. What a catastrophe his organs would be! I reached out to him, suggesting that, at the party, I could whip up “a nice rabbit dish” for him and the other guests, chuckling darkly as I did so.
He politely declined, stating that my presence was gift enough.
Win some, lose some, I guess.
THURSDAY: JON TAKES TO THE OPEN ROAD, TO DISCUSS THE CUISINE AND DISHES OF MONTANA, BECAUSE IT WAS AN ANSWER IN TODAY’S CROSSWORD. SERIOUSLY, THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MOTIVATE HIM
MONDAY: IN HONOR OF HALLOWEEN, JON MAKES A SWEET, POSSIBLY SPOOKY TREAT. WHAT IS IT? I DON’T KNOW, MAN, I HAVEN’T PLANNED THIS!
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour, divided (1 tsp & 1 tbsp 2 tsp)
½ tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 c amber or brown ale
8 oz sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1. Toss the cheese with the 1 tsp of flour to keep it from clumping. Melt the butter on medium heat, and add the rest of the flour, the pepper, the cayenne. Cook about 1-2 minutes, stirring Constantly, then add the mustard and worchestershire, stir to combine, and cook another minute. Add the beer, whisk together, and cook about 5 minutes.
2. Add the cheese, stirring to incorporate between handfuls, and continue stirring until smooth. Also, toast some bread. Once the cheese sauce is smooth, remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve on toasted bread.