Can someone tire of Eggs Benedict on New Year’s morning? The brief answer is “no.” The recipe that follows is not meant to replace in our hearts the supreme brunch dish. On the other hand, Eggs Benedict is a particularly fussy dish to make. Consider the careful assemblage necessary in making the hollandaise sauce, and the tricky nature of poaching eggs — plus or minus 10 seconds and the yolk is all wrong! The anxiety! Runny hollandaise and overdone eggs! And given the speed to which we can dispatch what is served to us, was all that time and work invested in producing it really worth the trouble? The brief answer is “yes.” Especially if someone else is making it… and cleaning up afterwards!
To quote the Prince of Denmark, “Ay, there’s the rub.”
Which brings us to the dish below, Welsh Rabbit, which takes all of 25 minutes (max) from when you switch on the lights in the kitchen to when you’re happily downing forkfuls of cheesy toast, and washing it down with a flute of chilled Brut Champagne! But before we continue, a word about the name of the dish itself. The origin of the name is obscure, it first appeared in print in 1725 as Welsh Rabbit, and then in 1785 it was altered to Welsh Rarebit, perhaps because the dish didn’t contain a whisker of rabbit in it! In his 1926 edition of the Dictionary of Modern English Usage, the grammarian H.W. Fowler states a forthright view: “Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.” So there you are, and I’m glad that we’ve put that thorny issue to rest.
The prep of Welsh Rabbit is indeed simple and the cooking simpler yet. Whisk in hand, stirring the sauce over a low flame even allows for a sip or two of Champagne before sitting down at the table! A great way to launch a New Year if you ask me. But Welsh Rabbit is more than a great brunch dish, it’s also good for a light Sunday supper. And famously, this was a White House late night snack favorite of FDR.
And now to the Champagne, and what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “old reliable”. Reliable because there isn’t an occasion or food where Champagne fails to add to your enjoyment. Shame that for too many folks Champagne is only put into use on “major” celebration days, and then only for a ceremonial toast. Champagne is brilliant wine to open for just about any food! And the Champagne recommended here is produced by a small grower — a vigneron who has the option of selling his grapes to the big concerns (like Veuve Clicquot) or in good harvest years reserving some fruit and creating wine under his or her own label. And if you lived in Paris you would probably drive to Champagne a couple of times a year (about 90 minutes away), stop into your grower of choice, buy a couple of cases of your favorite and laugh all the way back to Paris, “Let the stupid Americans drink all the Veuve Clicquot they want!”
Laculle Brut Premier (Champagne, France)
The Laculle family have been making Champagne in the small village of Chervey, nestled in the Cotes des Bar for the past 3 centuries. The family’s winemaking activity dates back to 1789. From this year of the French Revolution onwards, each generation has followed in the family’s wine-making footsteps. Patrick took over the family business in 1980 and married Agnes Moutard in 1986. Patrick uses exclusively his own grapes of his small, 10ha vineyard. 100% Pinot Noir. Soft floral scent, bright on the palate, clean finish with a small persistent bubble.
Welsh Rabbit/Welsh Rarebit
6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup porter beer
¾ cup heavy cream
6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 1½ cups)
2 drops Tabasco
4 slices of toasted rye bread
- Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
- In a medium sauce pan over low heat, melt butter and whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for 2 minutes or so, being careful not to brown the flour.
- Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper until smooth.
- Add beer and whisk to combine. Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth.
- Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth (about 4 minutes). Add Tabasco. Spoon sauce over rye toast.
n.b. I used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in place of the Porter. Sierra Nevada actually makes a Porter. I’m sure it would be good to use, I just have a reflex reaction against a beer that is darker than motor oil. Although this recipe calls for 4 slices of rye toast, the quantity of cheese sauce can comfortably cover two more slices of toast. And… (a drum roll would be appropriate) are you a fan of grilled cheese with bacon and tomato? (crash the cymbal) Put a slice of tomato and a strip or two of crisp bacon on your rye toast before applying the blanket of cheese sauce!
p.s. I made up the Thomas Jefferson quote… although he may in fact have at one time or another referred to Champagne as “old reliable” – after all he lived in France for years!