Chicken rarebit is a dish inspired by Welsh rarebit which is kind of elaborate cheese on toast. Chicken breast fillet with mozzarella and mushroom topping is like an incredible chicken melt or like mozzarella stuffed chicken – but twice as easy to prepare.
A new way with old chicken
Just when I thought a chicken breast fillet was the most boring food item on earth, I had this idea. It’s of course inspired by Welsh rarebit, and it is basically cheese on toast with the toast replaced by a flattened, lightly fried chicken fillet.
Everyone’s all-time favourite words are in this dish: chicken, mushrooms, cheese, grill, garlic and breadcrumbs.
But instead of elaborately stuffing the chicken fillet, with it never wanting to close up properly and the stuffing ALWAYS leaking out, this is a deconstructed stuffed chicken.
The garlicky mushrooms and cheese mix is piled up on top of the chicken and held in place from running away by some flour and breadcrumbs.
It was originally a rabbit after all
Welsh rarebit is not Welsh and it’s not rabbit, although I was amazed to find the original name, around the 16th century, was actually ‘Welsh rabbit’. It was a very un-PC mockery of Welsh peasants who could not very often afford meat, and were fond of baked or grilled cheese.
In time, the rabbit turned to rarebit, probably due to punters causing ruckus at being served cheese instead of what they thought was a meat dish.
Welsh rarebit in the classic form is a toast topped with cheese sauce made with flour, beer and egg.
But cutting corners is common and so you can call your plain and ordinary cheese on toast ‘Welsh rarebit’, especially if you use Caerphilly cheese.
How to make my chicken rarebit
It helps if you own an oven-proof frying pan and I can never sing enough praise of cast iron skillets, which is what I use for this.
The first time I was fearful the cheese would burn to ashes or fuse with the pan, making it a write-off, but I should have trusted cast iron. If properly seasoned, it’s a better non-stick than all the Teflons in the world.
The topping that dropped onto the pan – and you can’t avoid that happening – cooked into beautiful crispy, lacy bits that The Weather Man and I were fighting over.
The chicken fillets for this dish should be halved horizontally, if very large, or just flattened with a mallet if individually sized.
The cheesy topping is straightforward: everything mixed together in a bowl – no need to cook a sauce, Welsh rarebit-style.
Only the mushrooms, chopped finely, need to be cooked with a little butter, garlic and thyme, preferably in a separate little skillet.
Then it’s the chicken’s turn: fry it in the oven safe pan on both sides, until cooked through. I like it dredged in cornmeal before frying, so it is coated in lovely golden crunch.
Once it’s cooked, it’s the building exercise: first a pile of mushrooms followed by a generous mountain of cheese, pressed down to order. But as I said before, those escaped bits of cheese crispened in the pan will be the best ones!
Off into the oven it goes, for about ten minutes. And it’s done.
Riffs on chicken rarebit
This one recipe creates so many different possibilities: hide blanched spinach under the cheese, or naughty bits of bacon.
Swap chicken for pork tenderloin, or a thick fat slab of aubergine in a veggie version.
Spike the cheese with chilli powder instead of mustard, dab chutney or chilli jam on top, or slather everything in mayo.
And still, I promise, you’ll be going back to my original formula; you really can’t beat cheese and mushrooms.
But I have to add a disclaimer: with that amount of cheese plus breadcrumbs, plus frying, it’s not the lightest of dishes, so it will probably go best with just a green salad on the side.
More chicken recipes
Bacon wrapped chicken chunks, grilled and served with pan fried mushrooms, are a wholesome main course. On their own, bacon chicken bites are a classic appetiser.
Crispy chicken Milanese with tarragon flavour, traditionally served with just a rocket salad. Marinate the chicken in buttermilk before coating in breadcrumbs, that’s the secret to extra crisp crust and succulent meat.
Chicken thighs stuffed with chorizo and garlic, cooked under a skillet. A modification of chicken under a brick – a London brick ideally, handmade and used widely for (you’d never guess) building houses in the first half of the 20th century.
More cheesy recipes
Hasselback gratin, potato slices stacked like dominoes, baked in creamy and cheesy sauce. They will have their bottoms cooking in the cheese mix and the tops will get scorchy, crispy, crusty, lacey and lovely.
Spicy, cheesy lentils bake, a superior vegetarian dish put together in 15 minutes. Baked cheesy lentils inspired by NY Times Cooking.
Spinach and cheese bake, a healthy casserole served as a side dish or for brunch. This is an easy recipe for baked spinach with cheese, made with fresh spinach.