Union snacks: Forget hotdogs and burgers - classic British savouries are ripe for revival

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Though burgers, pizzas and even hotdogs have improved out of all recognition at certain specialist outlets, my snack of choice remains an item that would have been recognised by Dr Johnson. Welsh rarebit, specifically the one that seethes under the grill at St John restaurant in Smithfield, hits the bull's eye with its tempting aroma, golden good looks and reasonable cost (£5.20).

A pungent amalgam of cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and strong, mature cheddar, it merits a detour at any hour but as Fergus Henderson points out in The Complete Nose to Tail, "it makes a splendid savoury at the end of your meal, washed down with a glass of port". You will note that the genial guv'nor of St John says "at the end". Yes, Welsh rarebit (or rabbit) works surprisingly well as an alternative to the customary dessert (Henderson's rendition is so plump and generous that you might want to share it). Indeed, it can be a happier conclusion than a pud, which particularly in the case of chocolatey affairs, tends to obliterate all that goes before.

If this sounds a particularly male approach, I might point out that if my wife spots it on a restaurant menu, she makes a terrier-like dash for the rarebit, planning her meal round the bubbling finale. London restaurants that serve Welsh rarebit among their offerings range from the stoutly traditional Sweetings in the City to the hip Rivington in Shoreditch and the glossy Caprice In Mayfair. Bettys in York also serves a substantial version.

At the culinary lighthouse of Quo Vadis in Soho, Jeremy Lee offers a tempting variant in the form of grilled Ogleshield sandwich. "It is a rather extravagant use of an amazing cheese made from unpasteurised Jersey milk," Lee admits. "You subject the Ogleshield to a prolonged pounding with mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Cut bread in very thin slices, make sandwiches and grill slowly for a long time. When people get the little sandwich served on a tiny white tray, they say, 'Is that it?', but when they have a nibble they say, 'Oh, point taken.' It's quite rich, very delicious."

There is no obligation for savouries to be of a cheesy nature. St John's devilled lambs' kidneys on toast (cayenne, mustard and Worcestershire sauce supply the infernal heat) gives Welsh rarebit a good run for its money, The fashionable fishy haunt of J Sheekey, in London, offers the option of soft herring roes on toast. This comforting combination has made a regular appearance in our house since the recent appearance of Canadian herring roes on the fish counter at Waitrose.

Many may think that these items function better as snacks rather than end-of-meal savouries but previous generations had no such qualms. In the 1934 recipe collection Good Savouries, picked by Tom Parker Bowles as one of his top five cookbooks, Ambrose Heath insists that the savoury "makes an admirable ending to a meal, like some unexpected witticism or amusing epigram at the end of a pleasant conversation". In fact, the savoury was not quite the last word, since diners subsequently tackled "the frivolities of dessert".

Ranging from anchovy and chicken-liver toasts (a highly successful nibble) to devilled prawns on toast and fried Camembert, these savouries must have been fairly modest in size if they were to be an entr'acte between main course and pud. You can see this with angels on horseback (Heath maintained that oysters wrapped in "very thin rashers of streaky bacon" then skewered, grilled and served on small pieces of buttered toast resulted in "the finest savoury of all"), but it is hard to see how more substantial combinations such as cheese artichokes (boiled globe artichoke bottoms on toast topped with Béchamel sauce, egg yolk and grated cheese) could be made small. Oddly, Heath omitted Welsh rarebit and its cousin buck rarebit (topped with a poached egg) because "we are only too familiar through their constant reoccurrence at table".

However, he does include the French equivalent, croque monsieur. The most popular of French savouries, it was invented around 1910 and mentioned by Proust a decade later. Finally gaining traction on this side of the Channel, the croque monsieur is a very protean nibble. Heath insists it is a small sandwich containing cheese-ham-cheese layers (the cheese is Gruyère) that is quick-fried in butter so the cheese doesn't melt.

In his authoritative book, Classic Cheese Cookery, Peter Graham agrees on the content but says the bread should be buttered and the sandwich grilled until the cheese begins to ooze out. "The breed of croque monsieur widely available today in French cafés," he adds severely, "is generally but a pale imitation of the genuine dish." Certainly, the version you usually get in Paris – a single, limp slice with a grilled topping of Gruyère béchamel over ham – does not accord with the name of the dish. Croque means crunch.

St John's Welsh rarebit

Since you make the topping in advance, it is worthwhile making enough for two or three snacks. The following amount is sufficient for six slices.

Melt a knob of butter in a saucepan and stir in 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook until it "smells biscuity but is not browning". Add 1 teaspoon of English mustard powder and half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Stir in 200ml Guinness and "a very long splash of Worcestershire sauce". Slowly add 450g grated mature Cheddar. Stir until creamy and pour into a shallow container to set. When you want to make the Welsh rarebit, lightly toast as many slices as you want, then spread the mixture about 1cm thick. Grill until bubbling and golden brown.

Soft herring roe on toast

Wash 225g of soft herring roe, then drain and pat dry with kitchen towel. In a small bowl, prepare 100g of seasoned flour by adding salt, pepper and a quarter- teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Lightly coat pieces of roe in flour. Fry in butter for 3-4 minutes until crispy on the outside (you might want to do this in batches). Serve on buttered toast with finely chopped parsley on top.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen